One of my favorite lines from a song is out of James McMurtry’s “Childish Things.” It goes “when I was young and the world was flat.” The whole song is about growing up and moving on from the things you thought and believed as a kid, but that particular line encapsulates much of what growing up really is: shedding falsehoods for “truth.”
For better or worse, the whole good, bad, and ugly truth.
The Giver is a small novel by Lois Lowry set in a distant(?) future “utopia,” where everything is governed by what is called “Sameness.” Everyone wears the same clothes, goes through the same daily rituals, and makes no choices of their own. Matters such as career and marriage are decided by a group of Elders, who make their choices based on compatibility and observed behavior. When they get too old, or don’t live up to community standards, or simply don’t want to live there anymore, they get “released” from the community. And people actually LIKE this.
One young boy, Jonas, is getting ready for career selection, but instead of getting a regular job working in some service to the community, he is instead selected to be the new Receiver of Memory. The community is considered to be a very, very high honor, though one that comes with a lot of pain and suffering. Though they never explain how, the Receiver of Memory holds all the memories of the world (Jonas’ world, at least) in an effort to maintain Sameness in the present. Effectively, the RoM holds everyone’s emotions and memories so that no one else has to. Jonas, who has never felt deep emotion, be it happiness or sadness or anguish or joy, begins to see the world anew as he receives the memories the RoM (who goes by The Giver, since he’s passing on his memories) passes into his mind, for better or worse. He experiences snow (and hills, apparently) for the first time, and the exhilaration that comes with sledding. He experiences war for the first time, and the horrible pain and loss that come with that. As you can imagine, Jonas receives all these things and decides that the world is horrible without feelings, memories, colors, or weather in his community, and he and Giver hatch a plan to return these things to their world.
The Giver is apparently a bit controversial in schools, not for its content, but for its, well, lack of literary-ness. It remains a popular book to have teenagers read for English class (I never read it myself), but literary snobs often turn their nose up at it and scoff, stating that children apparently need to read “literature” in school and not YA utopias (this book was YA before YA was cool; just sayin’…). Now, I think that’s a load of hooey if you ask me; hell, I probably would have enjoyed this book quite a bit more than some of the other stuff I read in 7th grade English. It’s definitely drawing from the likes of Farenheit 451 and Brave New World, but more for younger kids who aren’t going to understand what 451 is talking about.
The one theme that stands out to me here, however, is the transition from childhood to adulthood. I feel like that’s what Jonas is effectively experiencing by receiving all of the memories of the world; he’s learning (again, for better or for worse) what the world was once like. He’s leaving the idyllic, pain-free life of his Community and becoming aware of EVERYTHING, and that’s exactly what that transition is like. You find out how the world is both magnificent and hideous all at once. Sometimes you get one end of the spectrum more than the other, other times you’re in a happy medium. The choice is up to you, however, what to make of this world and how to proceed your way through it.