Critical Essays Style and Language in The Giver


Lowry narrates The Giver in a simple, straightforward style that is almost journalistic — one episode directly and logically follows another episode. Her clarity of style and her many everyday details help portray ordinary daily life in Jonas' community. For example, everyone rides bicycles that are neatly stowed in bicycle ports, and families share morning and evening meals and participate in typical family activities. Lowry's descriptions, which are clear and exact, indicate that the community members seem content with their lives. Because everything seems so comfortable and perfect, we are not prepared for the horrible truth that lies hidden beneath this peaceful, utopian surface. Lowry manipulates our perceptions and emotions by slowly and deliberately revealing that Jonas' community is not what it appears to be. Her straightforward style adds to the suspense throughout the novel.

The memories that The Giver transmits to Jonas sharply contrast to Jonas' everyday environment. Lowry describes the memories using a lyrical style. The memories are lyrical — non-journalistic — because they are images that provoke thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The imagery that Lowry creates is similar to that found in poetry. Snow, cold, war, the suffering of animals, and the joy of a celebration or love felt by family members are easily visualized.

Some of the memories that Lowry describes are mystical. They are mysterious because Jonas doesn't fully comprehend them at first. The sensations he feels are unexplainable, but at the conclusion of many of the memories, Jonas feels a sense of peace. This mystical quality is evident in the memory of the family celebrating a traditional Christmas holiday that The Giver transmits to Jonas.

Lowry relies on rhetorical questions — questions to which oftentimes there are no answers — to reveal many of Jonas' thoughts. The unanswered questions that Jonas asks himself show the changes that he is going through as he gains wisdom. These questions emphasize the internal and external conflicts that Jonas experiences. For example, Jonas feels alienated from his friends because he can't discuss his training as the new Receiver in the same way that his peers talk about their job training. Jonas wonders to himself, "How could you describe a sled without describing a hill and snow; and how could you describe a hill and snow to someone who had never felt height or wind or that feathery, magical cold?" By using rhetorical questions, Lowry reveals Jonas' thoughts about how absurd it would be for him to try to explain his recent experiences to his friends, who could not understand them because all that his friends know is Sameness. Jonas, however, knows that life can — and should — include much more than Sameness.

In addition to rhetorical questions, Lowry uses euphemisms to show how easily people's thoughts can be manipulated and controlled without them even realizing it. A euphemism is a term used to say something indirectly or sometimes less offensively. For example, people tend to refer to the elderly as "senior citizens" rather than "old people," or they will say "pass away" instead of "die."

Euphemisms are often used in political situations, usually to cover up or misrepresent an embarrassing incident. Euphemisms are also deceptive. For example, in Jonas' community, the citizens use the word "release" to disguise its real meaning: kill or euthanize. Using euphemisms enables the community members to distance themselves from reality. The word "release" tends to soften the act of violence that is committed.

The community that Lowry creates in The Giver stresses precision of language. Precise language, however, in this community, is not precise at all but rather is a language in which the meanings of words are intentionally unclear. For example, each family unit participates in the "telling of feelings" every evening. This sharing is ironic because the people don't have any feelings. They gave up their feelings when they chose Sameness. Another word that is ironic and not precise is "Nurturer." Jonas' father, a Nurturer, is supposed to be a caretaker of infants. He does care for infants, but he also kills them.

One of the reasons why precise language is so very important to the community is that it ensures that nobody ever publicly lies, although at one point Jonas finally realizes that the whole community is a lie. In this way, though, the people can be controlled. As Jonas' mother tells him when he asks her if she loves him, ". . . our community can't function smoothly if people don't use precise language." The use of "precise language" in Jonas' community has contributed to the creation of a non-human society, for the people function as robots and have no feelings. Jonas' parents don't even know the meaning of love. They consider the term meaningless and too general. Even Jonas once comments to The Giver that loving each other is probably a dangerous way to live — even though he likes the feeling.

One important writing technique that Lowry uses in The Giver is her open-ended plot structure. To allow readers the freedom to interpret the ending of The Giver in their own way, Lowry writes an ambiguous concluding episode to her novel, an ending that is not explained.

After a long journey toward freedom, Jonas and Gabe are freezing and starving. In a horrible, blinding snowstorm, Jonas discovers a sled on top of a hill, just like in a memory that he earlier received from The Giver. Jonas and Gabe get on the sled and begin sliding downhill toward their "final destination." Jonas sees Christmas lights and hears music and singing. He knows that joy, love, and memories lie ahead, but Lowry ends the novel just when we expect her to tell us whether or not Jonas and Gabe reach the town below and what then happens to them.

What happens to Jonas and Gabe? Do they die? Is the sled ride a dream? Do they end up in a different community and find love and joy? Does Jonas' community change? Do Jonas and Gabe end up back in the community that they left? We don't know. The ambiguous ending of The Giver has been compared to the ending of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," in which the main character, a poor little girl, sees Christmas decorations — tinsel and colored balls — and a table laden with food. In Andersen's story, the little match girl freezes to death, but Andersen suggests that she is far happier, for she is "far away where there is neither cold, hunger, or pain." We have to wonder: Could Jonas and Gabe possibly be experiencing a similar kind of euphoria before they, like the little match girl, freeze to death?

Lowry intentionally ends The Giver ambiguously to allow each reader to create an individual ending according to that person's own beliefs, hopes, dreams, and experiences. Therefore, every ending is the "right" ending, and every reader, like Jonas, must make a choice. By focusing on Jonas' escape from his community, Lowry portrays how important language, words, freedom of speech, and choice are to the value of the individual, to every society, and to the world in which we live.