I want to live in the world of The Giver, by Lois Lowry.
It’s a world without the things that make me the saddest:
There’s no hunger.
There’s no poverty.
There’s no inequality.
There’s no racism or intolerance of any kind.
There’s no war.
Every child is welcomed into their family. Everyone is treated with politeness and respect. Every person works at a job that is uniquely suited to their abilities and interests, and all jobs are equally valued.
In short, it’s a perfect world—except that it isn’t. Because it’s a world that has embraced sameness in the cause of safety, conformity in the cause of contentedness, obedience in the cause of orthodoxy. There’s no place in the world for freedom, for individuality, for creativity.
When I first read this book, I was stunned by the way Lowry drew me into the story and then, with each page, peeled back the attractive skin of this place to reveal the horrors beneath. It’s a book designed to make the readers ask is this the inevitable consequence of… and then to finish that question with some current social or political trend. The beauty of her writing, though, is its utter neutrality: liberals are likely to think this is conservatism gone awry, and conservatives are likely to think exactly the opposite. In actuality, The Giver shows us humanity gone awry, and then it gently points us to the solution.
I taught Language Arts to learning disabled teenagers for thirty years before I retired. During that time, I taught The Giver perhaps a dozen times—each time, I had students tell me that they’d never read an entire book before, but that they loved this one. I remember well the wide-eyed looks of astonishment when the first little blemish in Jonas’s world was revealed, and the discussions about whether it’s better to have safety or freedom.
I love this book, and have read it perhaps twenty times, but I loved it even more after reading Lowry’s acceptance speech when The Giver won the Newbery Award. You can find a .pdf of that speech at this link: Newbery Speech
I’ve never been a person who conforms—always several steps out of fashion, more liberal than most people in my circle, more conservative than the general culture, dismissive of gender expectations…you get the idea. Being different is a lonely thing to be, but reading The Giver validates my belief that there’s more value in nonconformity than in Sameness.
Author Bio: Jan Ackerson is a freelance editor and short story writer who lives in rural Michigan. She enjoys traveling with her husband, playing with her granddaughters, and doing small acts towards social justice. Her website is www.superioreditingservice.com.