Friday, November 22, 2013

The Giver Quartet

Recently, I've been reading The Giver series by Lois Lowry.  I read the first book, The Giver, when I was in third grade.  I remember being forced to by my librarian and, while I liked the book, I didn't jump at the chance to re-read it.  I'm fairly sure that has been the only time, other than recently, that I indulged in the novel, but certain scenes stuck with me throughout my childhood.

There are four books in the series, but I've only gotten my hands on three of them [borrowed from my mother].  The only one I haven't read is The Messenger.  I started The Giver one Sunday while I was doing laundry, and was so involved in the story, I finished it the next day.


All the stories take place in a very controlled society.  Especially in The Giver and Son, one can see the structure clearly.  Each year, children are celebrated in groups each year at a ceremony, where participants are granted something new unique to their age group.  Sevens receive a jacket.  Nines get a bike.  Twelves, the last year to celebrated, ring in adulthood with their Assignments, the jobs they will do for the rest of their lives.

Singles apply for spouses, and parents apply for children.  Each family may only have two.  Among the first scenes in Son is a birth.  Claire, the story's protagonist, is pregnant.  Her Assignment at Twelve was birthmother, and she gives birth at the ripe old age of fourteen.  She refers to herself in her role as a Vessel, and the baby is known as her Product.  As soon as she gives birth, the baby is removed and placed in a Nurturing Center where it will be cared for.  Claire is never meant to see or interact with her baby.

I'm still not far along in the last book, but each time I open it I can't help but wonder if, to some small extent, this is where society is headed.  A life where things are so controlled and life and creativity and individuality are devalued, even hidden.  In the second book, Gathering Blue, a young girl named Kira with a deformed leg and a seemingly magical talent for embroidery is kept in captivity after her mom dies.  Although she doesn't see it at first, the comfortable room in the Council Edifice slowly becomes a suffocating prison.  She and her friends Thomas [gifted with woodcarving] and Jo [a toddler with a powerful singing voice] begin to realize that they are being held captive because of their gifts.

I've wanted to comment on this series since I started but I'm not sure what exactly I want to say.  In reading this morning, I came across a passage in Son, where Claire is talking with her co-worker Jeannette.  Claire is the only employee at her job who has not attended the December Ceremonies - someone has to remain behind to work.  As her co-workers return from a day of sitting at the Ceremony, Claire asks Jeannette about the Naming of the Newchildren, for all one year old children receive their names and are placed with a family.  Jeannette confesses that she was startled to hear the name Paul given away.  That had been her father's name, and two people within the Community can not have the same name.  Names, however, can be regiven once someone dies.

Jeannette did not know her father had died.  And what's more, she did not seem upset.  Her description of her father was "very nice".  She seems to not even know about the personality of the family who raised her, or if she did, could not adequately express herself in words.  As Claire listens, she thinks to herself that she feels "a little sorry for Jeannette, although she didn't know exactly why."

Once the two children in a family grow up and receive their Assignments, the parents are moved to a special house for adults without children.  It seems there is no communication between families after this process.  There are no phone calls or visits, and each go on to live his or her own life.

How similar does this sound to our culture?  The desensitization of teen pregnancy, the devaluation of the elderly, and to some extent, the suffocation of individualism.  I've been reading some blogs lately where the parents are adopting, and I think Claire's unique situation also gives insight into the struggles and desires a birth mom has for the child she places up for adoption.

I'm still not far into the last book, and I look forward to what's to come.  I suppose I wrote all this to say  that it's worth a read.  Lowry has an excellent, fluid writing style and it doesn't take long to get sucked into this story that seems so inhumane and foreign, but at the same time, all too familiar.

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