Lowry’s Giver and Orwell’s 1984: Significant Parallels
A great deal of controversy surrounds Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. The controversy varies depending on the topic. Ironically many people believe the novel should be censored. “The irony of censorship attacks on the novel is that The Giver dramatizes the plight of an individual living in a society that censors its peoples’ language, emotions, and behaviors” (Lord). First, parents throughout the country believe the book should be banned from schools due to adult themes. Next, many feel the book has too many similarities to other books about dystopian societies. Finally, because Lowry chose to leave the ending up to the reader, people tend to overlook the positive message that can be taken from such a book. Whether it be due adult themes, similarities to dystopian societies, and the ambiguous ending, we must decide for ourselves whether The Giver should be removed from school shelves.
Though it is true there are adult themes throughout the book such as infanticide, euthanasia, the broken down family unit, and censorship; the book can be used as a tool to teach young adults about the world around them. Lowry wrote the novel specifically for young adults. However, it is argued the language and visualizations Lowry chose to use is horrifying and disturbing to young adults. However, as a society, we must not forget that many of our fairy tales were originally just as horrifying and disturbing in order to teach valuable lessons to young adults. For instance in Hansel and Gretel, the youngsters did not conquer the witch and return to their grief stricken father. In fact the story was written to warn children not to wander off in the woods, for they did not know what could be awaiting them. It could have been a hungry witch as in Hansel and Gretel, a starving wolf dressed up as your grandmother as in Little Red Riding Hood, or even a rapist waiting for a fair maiden to fall asleep for him to ravish as in Sleeping Beauty. Just as these stories provided valuable lessons to the youth of centuries past, The Giver provides a valuable lesson to the young adults of today.
In today’s society people scream for more and more governmental control of what our young adults are exposed to. Lowry’s novel has gone under much scrutiny because parents are afraid of the adult themes. Depending on a person’s viewpoint, infanticide is not present in the United States (some may argue abortion is infanticide); neither is euthanasia. However, because infanticide and euthanasia is still practiced in other cultures throughout the world, it is important that young adults construct their own viewpoints of the brutal practice. To Jonas and the others in his community, infants were released into “Elsewhere.” Unless the person’s job was to release an individual, they were left oblivious to the true meaning of “release.” When Jonas’ father releases the smaller twin, he lacks the apprehension most readers would expect if told to kill a newborn child. This scene is one of the most scrutinized scenes in the novel. “Would-be censors object to the scene because it is so graphic, and because it transforms Jonas’s once beloved father into a cold-blooded murderer” (Lord). However, without scenes like these, young adults would be left to wonder why emotions are so important to an individual. If the emotions are stripped away from society in such a manner, there could be another excepted massive holocaust as seen in Nazi Germany.
Furthermore, the breakdown of the family unit is one other criticized theme in the novel. The government chooses the family units, relationships are never consummated, and the children are assigned to certain parents. Jonas’ world is void of grandparents as well. Because the parents are removed from their children, as they become adults, they are not allowed contact with their grandchildren. Family values and memories are not passed down through the generations as they are done today. This leads to the lack of individuality that Jonas’ society is all about, or as they call it “sameness.” Jonas the Receiver and the Giver are the only people in the community that hold on to the memories that give wisdom. Because everything is nearly perfected in organization, people are left with no control of their own destinies. They have no choices to make because committees have made all of those choices for them. Too much governmental power is what the constitution has been written to prevent. People must learn at a young age they have choices to make throughout their own lives. Every choice that the child makes affects his or her future. The best way to teach a child how important it is to have the right to make choices on their own is to give them examples of societies where one’s destiny is not in their own hands. A society where individuals have lost control, which may be painted as utopian societies; however, they are, in fact, dystopian societies in which control is left to a Totalitarian regime.
The similarities between Jonas’ community and the dystopian communities in other novels is also reason for controversy surrounding The Giver. Lowry’s novel can be viewed as George Orwell’s 1984 for young adults, because of the many similarities between the two books. Patty Campbell states, “At first it seems to be an autocratic state – an impression that is given credence by Orwellian images such as the rasping voices that chastise from ubiquitous speakers.” This is very similar to the chastisement Winston Smith receives during the lack of his full attention to his physical jerks. However, the main differences between the two societies is the loudspeakers in The Giver do not single individuals out; whereas the voice from the telescreen screamed, “Smith!…6079 Smith W! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please!” (36). Another similarity is the Receiver possesses memories that society wanted to forget, and Winston possesses memories the Party wants rewritten and forgotten. Furthermore, rule breakers are released in The Giver. However, rule breakers in 1984 are not allowed death, but they are forced to release their identities, thoughts, and ideas. Then they are forced into conformity or “sameness.”
Additionally, the two novels have the biblical allusion of life, death, and resurrection. Jonas is the different from everyone else during his life, but does not call attention to his gift to see beyond. Like everyone else, he takes a pill to suppress his stirrings; Jonas lives in his community of people just as everyone else does. When Jonas first becomes the receiver, he looses the identity, which was forced upon him. Jonas loses his innocence and becomes aware of the society around him. This is the death of his sameness; and Jonas is resurrected as an individual who makes his own memories, and is the salvation of his community. Likewise, Winston’s life death and resurrection story is similar as Jonas’s, but at the same time, it is completely opposite. Winston begins as a freethinker with ideas that could save his community. Like Jesus, his ideas and lifestyle is dangerous to the totalitarian regime that controls the populous. Therefore, he is spiritually executed and forced to conform to the masses. In the end Winston is resurrected as the shell of the man he once was. He is left with no emotion and a sense of helplessness. The reader does learn, however, the citizens in The Giver did chose their way of life; but because the memories and histories are kept from them, the reader is left to wander if they made the choice willingly or if the choice was forced upon them as in Winston’s case. After all, Jonas himself wonders how much he has been told is the truth, or how much of it may be the lies individuals are allowed to tell. It is confusing why people fear novels, which warn against the horrors and atrocities one may face in a dystopian society. Perhaps it is due to the violent themes these societies suggest. However, there are only two ways people can learn about the horrors and atrocities of dystopian societies. They either learn from first hand experience, or they learn from reading. In order to prevent such atrocities from happening in the future, it is crucial that young adults learn about them when they are young.
Another source of controversy is the ambiguous ending Lowry has given to her story. “Lowry refuses to provide a tidy ending” (Campbell). This leaves the readers to draw their own conclusions about the ending. Either readers feel Jonas and Gabriel died, or readers are more optimistic and believe that Jonas and Gabriel found their happy ending. They were accepted into a family like the memory of the Christmas gathering. The vague ending has caused people to believe young adults will be distraught if they feel the young adults have passed away. Because there are many Biblical allusions throughout the novel, it can be assumed if Jonas and Gabriel died, they entered the Kingdom of Heaven.
As mentioned before, Jonas is the savior of his community. He is given a gift to see beyond, which no one else has. Also, Gabriel’s name leads readers with a Christian background to believe the infant is a messenger sent to deliver revelations to Jonas. Without Gabriel’s attachment to Jonas, the meaning of release may not have been fully revealed to Jonas. Gabriel’s impending release announced the resurrection of Jonas as the savior of his community. Finally, the name Jonas is a variation of Jonah, who was called by God to “Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). Like Jonah, Jonas is scornful of the wickedness in his community. Because preaching against their ways would mean release for Jonas, the only way he can help them is to leave them with their memories so they can become whole again, so they can feel again. The Biblical undertones to The Giver supports the idea this novel is appropriate for young adults. One way people can strengthen faith in other people is to challenge that faith. This book can be used as a tool to strengthen Christian faith in young adults.
So, is The Giver an appropriate novel for schools? It seems many values and morals can be taught from reading the book. The book is written in a manner that leaves questions open in the reader’s mind; thus, it teaches them to think for themselves. Furthermore, Lowry’s novel is appropriate to teach young adults how important the choices they make for themselves are toward their own future. Unlike George Orwell’s 1984, the novel is appropriate for the younger adults, because they, too, need to learn the world is not as picture perfect as they may believe. This notion can light a spark in young adults’ minds, which can lead the way for the freedom of people who are oppressed or wrongfully executed. Furthermore, the book does not harm Christian faith in young minds. In fact it can strengthen that faith. This novel can challenge the minds of the readers. Therefore, it should not be removed from schools. The purpose of sending young adults to school is for them to learn about the world around them. It is just as crucial for young adults to learn the world around them is filled with injustices, as it is for them to learn the world can be a just place. The way young adults learn is by challenging their minds, not sheltering them.
Holy Bible, The. New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 2005.
Lord, Elyse. “The Giver.” Novels for Students. Gale Research: 1998.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Delacorte, 1993.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classics, 1977.