The 1990s Newbery Medal Winners The Giver Major Themes

Many themes in The Giver demonstrate Lowry's concerns about society and humanity. For example, she concentrates on the tradeoffs involved when Jonas' community chooses Sameness rather than valuing individual expression. Certain themes in the book may be familiar to readers of Lowry's other novels.

Throughout The Giver, Lowry attempts to awaken each and every reader to the dangers that exist when people opt for conformity over individuality and for unexamined security over freedom. At one time in the past, the people who inhabited Jonas' community intended to create a perfect society. They thought that by protecting the citizens from making wrong choices (by having no choices), the community would be safe. But the utopian ideals went awry, and people became controlled and manipulated through social conditioning and language. Now, even the expression "love" is an empty ideal. For example, when Jonas asks his parents if they love him, his mother scolds him for using imprecise language. She says that "love" is "a very generalized word, so meaningless that it's become almost obsolete." To Jonas, however, love is a very real feeling.

Lowry stresses the point that people must not be blindly obedient to the rules of society. They must be aware of and must question everything about their lives. In Jonas' community, the people passively accept all rules and customs. They never question the fact that they are killing certain babies simply because such babies are different, or that they are killing old people whom they determine are no longer productive to the community. The community members unquestioningly follow rules; over time, because killing has become a routine practice, horrible and senseless actions do not morally, emotionally, or ethically upset them. As The Giver says of Jonas' father's killing the lighter-weight twin male, "It's what he was told to do, and he knows nothing else."

Another important theme in The Giver is the value of the individual. Lowry points out that when people are unable to experience pain, their individuality is devalued. Memories are so vital because they oftentimes include pain, and pain is an individual reaction: What is painful to one person might not be painful to another person. Also, people learn from memories and gain wisdom from remembering past experiences.

The people who live in Jonas' community are not individuals. Their lives are very routine, predictable, and unchanging. Because they chose Sameness generations ago, they gave up their individuality — and their freedom. Now, they know no other way of life.

Other themes in The Giver, such as family and home, friendships, acts of heroism, as well as the value of remembering the past, are familiar because they are themes in Lowry's previous novels also. Like Rabble in Rabble Starkey, Jonas has to leave the family that was created for him. Through the experience of leaving, both Jonas and Rabble learn to appreciate what it means to have a family and a home. And like Annemarie in Lowry's award winning Number the Stars, Jonas lives in a repressed society in which he has no freedom. Both Jonas and Annemarie risk their lives in order to save people they love. Because the conclusion of The Giver is so ambiguous, we don't know how Jonas' experiences ultimately affect him or his community.

Lowry challenges her readers to reexamine their values and to be aware of the interdependence of all human beings with each other, their environment, and the world in which they live. When people are forced to live under an oppressive regime that controls every person's actions, meaningful relationships between people are threatened because they involve individual feelings and thoughts. Only by questioning the conditions under which we live, as Jonas does in The Giver, can we maintain and secure our freedom of expression.

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