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.”
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
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