Jonas, an Eleven when THE GIVER opens, lives in a Community where everything is meticulously ordered: houses look alike, people dress alike, each family unit includes a father and a mother (who can apply for one male and one female child). Children begin their volunteer hours when they are Eights, and the Committee of Elders assigns them their roles in the Community at the Ceremony of Twelves. Because the people have chosen Sameness, nothing in their Community is unexpected, inconvenient, or unusual. They have no hills, no color, no cold, no sunshine. Their feelings are only superficial; their memories encompass only one generation. Pain is relieved instantly by taking a pill. They have abdicated choices.
The Receiver of Memory holds the position of highest honor within the Community, serving as the repository for the memories and knowledge of generations. Whenever the Committee of Elders are faced with a new situation, they are able to seek the counsel and advice of the Receiver. They have the benefit of experience without having to bear its pain.
Because of his intelligence, integrity, courage, wisdom, and Capacity to See Beyond, Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. The current Receiver, who has held the position for decades, then becomes the Giver.
Ms. Lowry paints a vivid picture of this Community. Referring to everyday concepts in a slightly unusual way helps to set that society apart from our own. Babies younger than one year are called "newchildren," for example; children of the same age are "groupmates"; the elderly, the unhealthy, or those who have broken the rules three times may be "released."
Why might parents or teachers consider THE GIVER inappropriate for their children? I can only speculate on this since I find the book profoundly original and commendable:
1. The setting being a community without freedom. It should be noted, however, that citizens relinquished their freedom years earlier in order to escape the accompanying chaos. They are perfectly satisfied with their arrangement and are not oppressed.
2. The family being depicted as a temporary sociological unit rather than a permanent socio-biological unit. Nevertheless, this family unit provides a very nurturing atmosphere.
3. References to "Stirrings" (sexual arousal). These occur only a few times in the book and are only vaguely described. Since Stirrings are forbidden in the Community, young people begin taking a preventative pill upon first experiencing them and continue taking it daily until they enter the House of the Old.
4. The idea of young people bathing the elderly of the opposite gender. This happens only once in the book. It is a gentle, caring, and (given the ages of the participants) asexual experience.
5. The concept of "release." This pervades the book, but its meaning remains uncertain until Chapter 19, when Jonas witnesses a release.
I would think that for many readers these concerns would be assuaged by Jonas, the young protagonist who, in the course of his instruction, recognizes the advantages of previous systems and selflessly tries to better his Community.
Although there are aspects of this Community that we may find unsettling, we must remember that Lowry is not advocating this system. She is, in fact, inviting us to consider whether our own society has any of the characteristics of the Community that disturb us:
Do we attempt to make our lives pain free?
Do we attempt to erase unpleasant memories?
Do we use euphemisms?
Do we use robotic phrases, as for apologies?
Do we have anything resembling the "House of the Old"?
Do we have a ritual that might be called a "Ceremony of Loss"?
Do we attempt Climate Control?
Do we avoid talking about ways in which we differ from each other?
In our own Society, without a designated Receiver of Memory, that responsibility -- with its inherent pain and exhilaration -- falls to each of us. Vital questions for us to consider are Which memories will we receive? Which will we give?