A few weeks back, one of my friends handed me a book and said, “I think you’ll like this.” It was a short, 179-page book by Lois Lowry called The Giver.
As usual, my friend was also on top of the news that this book is being converted into a movie, to be released this August.
So I started reading – and didn’t want to stop. Lowry writes in a clear, simple style that middle-school students would enjoy but that also pulls adults into the story of Jonas, a soon-to-be TWELVE, whose ASSIGNMENT is something he never imagined.
Jonas lives in a futuristic, utopian society – at least, it seems perfect on the surface. Everyone follows a strict order of rules, is rigidly polite, and takes prescribed medication that prevents pain and emotion. "Releases" are celebrated in the House of the Old, and for the premature, but no one really knows what they involve.
At twelve, each child is assigned his life-long occupation since no one, other than a group of Elders, is responsible for making choices. Jonas, who is generally good at everything, can’t guess what his assignment might be.
When he learns that he has been selected as the next Receiver, he is nervous and afraid, for there is only one Receiver who holds all the memories of pain and pleasure in life – so that nothing disrupts the predictable order and harmony of the community.
But as Jonas receives both painful and pleasurable memories from the Giver, he discovers the truth and realizes he can never go back to his old way of life.
Discussion PointsThe story is simple and short, but the message behind the story is powerful. What is the meaning and value of life?
Can anyone truly live if completely shielded from pain? Both the Giver and Jonas realize the answer is no, because memories bring both pain and happiness. If you prevent pain, you can never experience joy and love.
You can also never experience family. The happiest memory Jonas receives is a family, including grandparents, at Christmas. But in Jonas’ community, there are no grandparents. Children are assigned parents based on a selection process. Once children grow up, parents live by themselves and eventually enter the House of the Old. There are no true family ties.
An even more horrific practice that Jonas discovers is the true nature of release – euthanasia – practiced on both the very old and sometimes, the very young. He forcefully feels that life must have meaning and in the end, decides that saving one individual is worth risking everything.
Final ThoughtsLife is something to prize and cherish. This is a message, I believe, that’s lacking in American society today. After all, what is abortion but euthanasia for what some view as an “inconvenience”?
Lowry’s message is a timely one, although without the gospel message, nevertheless an incomplete one. It will be interesting to see how Hollywood translates the book. I can only wonder if viewers will be able to draw the parallel between Jonas’ society and the flippant view of life that our culture often takes.
C. S. Lewis once said, “To love is to be vulnerable.” To be vulnerable involves possible pain, loneliness and fear. But as Lowry’s story reminds us, life without love is meaningless.