Banned Books Awareness: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry, tells the story of a utopian future society where poverty, crime, sickness, and unemployment are a thing of the past. Jonas, a 12-year-old, is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memories; but Jonas soon learns that the price of this knowledge is more than he expected.

Emotional depth is gone from humanity as the result of the conversion to “Sameness”- an obvious vision of the effects conformity has on humanity as a whole. As the Receiver of Memories, it is Jonas’ task to store all the memories of life before Sameness.

The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994 even though there was criticism among many that the book was inappropriate for young children. The book is regularly assigned at middle schools in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The reaction to The Giver has been polarized to say the least. Some critics place it in the 100 Best Books for Children and even the Christian Science Monitor was quoted as saying, “Lowry’s powerful book, simply and directly written, offers an inspiring defense of freedom. Both adventurous and skillfully plotted, this book is recommended for young readers 8 and up.”

And yet the American Library Association lists the trilogy of The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger among the most frequently challenged books of the 1990’s.

During the mid-to late 90’s some of the most common objections were over violent and sexual scenes, infanticide, euthanasia, and “sexual awakening.”

In 1995 a parent in Franklin County, Kansas, challenged it for themes of murder, suicide, and “the degradation of motherhood and adolescence.”  The book was eventually removed from school libraries, but remained available for use at a teachers’ discretion.

Charges in Johnson County, Missouri were that The Giver “desensitized children to euthanasia.”

A parent in Sidney, New York, publicly objected to the usage of “mind control, selective breeding, and the eradication of the old and young when they are weak, feeble and of no more use.”

In Oklahoma a parent objected to the novel’s use of the terms “clairvoyance,” “transcendent,” and “guided imagery,” because these were  “occult, New Age practices, that the Bible tells us to avoid.”  The review committee voted unanimously to retain the book, but agreed to prohibit its use in elementary assignments.

The list of challenges this decade alone comes from Marshall University. A few of the reported incidents, in order of year, are as follows:

2001- Banned for violence, “occult themes”, and sexually explicit material.

2005- Challenged in Blue Springs, Missouri, when parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted.” They demanded the work be removed from 8th-grade reading lists across the district.

2006- Challenged, and later retained, at the Unified School District Elementary School in Seaman, Kansas.

2007- Parents in the Mt. Diablo School District in Concord, California, were offended by descriptions of pill-popping, suicide, and lethal injections given to babies and the elderly.

Some have claimed that the book encourages suicide in scenes where the Nurturers “release” newborns and elderly; but it’s that very disregard for life that the dystopian future society imposes that should be discussed and questioned. Being indifferent and ignorant of the subject is just as bad, if not worse, than blatantly tolerating it.

These are hardly new or radical themes. Science-Fiction movies have explored these themes for decades.  1976’s cult classic, Logan’s Run, depicts a hedonistic future society which controls population by requiring the death of everyone over a certain age. The event is a public spectacle called Carousel wherein the public is led to believe that it is an honor to go on to the next phase of life, when in fact they are simply and summarily eradicated.

In Lois Lowry’s Frequently Asked Questions section of her official website, she answers a young reader who explains that a parent at their school wants to ban The Giver, and asks for her opinion.

She replied, “I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It’s okay for a parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this book.’ But it is not okay for anyone to try to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let’s work hard to keep it from truly happening.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Sources: American Library Association, Wikipedia.com, Marshall University, loislowry.com

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

*NOTE FROM AUTHOR: Your comments and suggestions are always welcome and appreciated. Please feel free to chime in at the end of the article! I check and reply to all comments daily. Thank you for your continued support.*

13 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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  2. I’m using this book in my class right now as I have in the past. Students still talk to me about the book. I had one student ask me the name of it the other day so she could re-read the book.

    • We read The Giver in my third grade class. I’m now 27 years old and this is still the book that has had the most lasting impact on my life and thought processes. This book taught me to question, to look past what adults and society told me, to realize that freedom and personal choice are invaluable. What good is being free of pain when it means you have to also give up all the good things that balance it out?

      The Giver changed my life, even as a 9 yr old.

      • That’s true, you really can’t live in a world without choices, because in Jonas’s world, kids can’t even see color. That’s how limited their world is. Isn’t it sad??

      • In the age of Obama and “fairness” and ”
        equality” and rampant charges of “rac*sm” and “sexism” at the drop of a hat when you disagree and the concentration of centralized authority (IRS,NSA,FBI, etc) all I can think is: Everyone is the same. No one is different from another and everything is “harmonious”. Sounds like the Left’s idea of utopia.

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  4. I spent several years reading The Giver aloud to freshmen with reading difficulties. It generated much discussion about conformity and individual choices. Most students were appalled when they discovered that “released” meant “killed.” And it wasn’t ok. Jonas’s escape with his little brother was viewed as brave and necessary even if the ambiguous ending could be interpreted as him freezing to death in the snow. They found it preferable to living in a society with no joy, no color, no celebration and no love. The teenage years can be all about conformity. Perhaps some would prefer it but I think a free society is all about choices: joy and sorrow, love and unfortunately hate. If we can’t see hate for what it is, we can’t combat it. There is already too much control in our education system with everything geared toward state testing. I always felt my job was to teach my students how to think for themselves. I still think it’s one of the best books I ever taught.

  5. I am reading the book in my 6th grade class right now. it was a little awkward when my teacher was explaining certain things to us. However, i think it teaches kids to be a “one of a kind.”

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