Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Giver - Lois Lowry

The Giver was one of my favorite books as a kid. I read it over and over again in fifth grade. It all started when it was assigned in class. We read it as a group and talked about themes like individuality, morality, etc. I don’t know what made me want to read it again, but I’m glad I did because it ages very well. Needless to say I missed a lot of things the first time around. This is the type of book every parent should read to their kids, and then keep reading as the kids get older.

Precision of Language as Thought Control
The protagonist in this story is a 12-year-old boy named Jonas. In Jonas’ community they always talk about the importance of precision of language. If you said, “I’m starving,” instead of, “I’m hungry,” you had to formally apologize. You should never say, “I’m afraid,” when what you really mean is, “I’m apprehensive.” They took this “precision of language” very seriously. It was in the community rules.

As a kid I thought the community was just uptight. I thought they were “grammar Nazis.” Now I understand what Lois Lowery was really getting at. The Giver’s precision of language is a form of thought control. The idea of thought control is represented very well in Orwell’s 1984. That book raised the question, “if you can’t think it can you feel it?” If there isn’t a word for joy can you really feel joy? Personally, I don’t believe you can. I think the underlying physiological basis for joy can be there, but if you can’t comprehend what’s happening I don’t believe you can truly feel it. In 1984, they solved this problem by simply removing the word (eg. ungood instead of bad, plusgood instead of great). In The Giver, they chastised anyone for saying a word that was too “strong.” For example, when Jonas said he loved his parents, his parents became uncomfortable, and told him that a more precise way to say that would be to say he enjoys them.

Dream Telling and Feeling Telling as Thought Control
Another one of the rules in Jonas’ community is Dream Telling and Feeling Telling. Every morning each member of the community has to tell their family about any dreams they had. The family then analyzes them together. Every supper everyone shares any feelings they had that day. Like before, the family then analyzes the feelings and helps each other overcome negative feelings. Everyone, from young children to adults, have to do this. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this rule. The first one is to catch any “stirrings.” Stirrings are feelings of emotion that happen in your sleep. For boys the obvious example is something like a wet dream. Once a child starts to have stirrings they then take a pill every day. That’s obviously to stop the stirrings. The second, and more important reason is another form of thought control. If you aren’t allowed to keep any thoughts or feelings private you cease to be an individual, and simply become another cog in the community. You also can’t ruminate on thoughts or feelings and have them build up and become stronger.

While there are many other aspects to The Giver, those are the two I wanted to talk about. They are also the two concepts that are not often communicated to children. I didn’t hear about Thought Control or Newspeak until freshman year of high school when we read 1984. The Giver is very like 1984 in that respect. These ideas are the reason I’m so glad I re read this amazing book. The concepts in it are simple enough for children, but also go much deeper. There is a lot of merit in reading books like this as a child and as an adult. Now that I’m older I can really understand and appreciate the things I barely touched as a child. 

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