Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Wikipedia entry

Jonas is about to turn twelve years old, well, kind of.  The children in this perfectly ordered society all have the same birthday.  At least, the town village has one ceremony where all the children are promoted to the next age and receive/are informed of all the duties and responsibilities for that age.  This is a village with only a certain amount of people and 0% unemployment. There is no trade of goods and services with any other villages. There is talk of being "reassigned" which implies, or maybe I just inferred that it means being sent from the village.

In The Giver, age is sort of the chronology we know, but treated more like the grades in school.  At the discretion of the town elders a person can be left back.  Once every year the children are advanced a year. Each year there is a ceremony naming all the ones, twos, threes, etc. up to 12.  Each year the ceremony also introduces an education grade change and certain privileges and responsibilities.  At the ceremony for the children 'turning 12' each child is informed of the adult role they are going to play in the running of the village. This is the last year that age is a fact for them. After 12 no one is really keeping track of age anymore. Adults have a ballpark figure of how old they are.

This is a closed society that is very carefully monitored.  There are 50 children born into the village each year. There are a handful of girls who are given the job of birth mother and they have babies for a few years before they are placed in general labor jobs. Married couples apply for the two children they are allowed.  How do they prevent unplanned children?  Well, they've thought of everything in this very rigid village where everyone somehow thinks they are free. Every morning the family members discuss their dreams and what they mean. At the first sign of sexual content in dreams, they get put on meds.

When Jonas goes to the 12 year old ceremony, all the other kids get their future job titles, called out in their birth order, but Jonas gets passed over.  After the rest of the kids receive their assignments the town elders announce that Jonas will be trained to be the town Receiver. The job hasn't been given out in some time and the current Receiver is pretty old.  As the Receiver in training, Jonas learns the true story of his village, how a society with only peace and comfort and full employment can be maintained, at the cost of allowing nature to take its course. Nature is diverted by the chemical suppression of sexual urges and the societal suppression of creativity. I found myself wondering how long it would take to drain all the life out of the entire population of a town. You could probably build a two-dimensional facsimile of life and make the people believe in it and cherish it like it was Utopia.

There's plenty of weirdness going on here. Did you ever stop to think of what it would cost in freedom to create Utopia and how impossible it is? All of the good is paraded about here and all of the bad and weird is there, but hidden.  People live in a state of denial about what really goes on. To keep perfect control of health, wealth, population and usefulness, there are some pretty unseemly things that need to be done.

As the Receiver, Jonas is privvy to more than any other citizen.  He knows the secrets and the troubling ways they keep peace.  He also knows there may be something more out there for him.  How does a 12 year old boy make forever decisions like that and what do they mean for him and for the village if he abandons it.

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