Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Giver": An Anti-Communist Interpretation

“The Giver,” is a young adult/tween novel by Lois Lowry, published in 1993.  Like many people my age, I first read “The Giver” in middle school English.  Recently, I reminisced on it, only to discover that it had a quite blatant anti-communism theme.  Now, I’m not one of those people that finds political messages in everything (and I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the United States Communist Party).  But in the case of “The Giver,” I think the facts speak for themselves.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, it focuses a boy named Jonas.   It is a dystopian novel, the society initially appearing completely at peace.  In the society he lives in when children turn 12 (all at the same time) they are assigned to the job they will have for the rest of their lives, based on their skills.  Jonas is selected as the “Receiver of Memories,” where he receives the memories of the human race from “The Giver of Memories.”  It is during this process that Jonas (and the reader) discover some of the unpleasantness behind the idyllic civilization.  The community (run by a council of elders) has removed color and music and individuality.  The very elderly and undesirable are “released” (i.e. euthanized).  The story ends with Jonas fleeing his home with a baby that was going to be released.

Let’s take a look at the society.  No form of currency is ever discussed, nor is bartering.  Each family is limited to two children, and even then, these children are the offspring of designated “birth mothers.”  The people are assigned to a job for which they are not paid, but everything is provided for them.
At the outset, the community sounds great (it’s a false utopia, what do you expect?).  A system in which there’s no sickness or pain, and no one is poor or hungry?  That’s a child’s understanding of a communist society.  But then the dark machinations that keep that society running are revealed.

The people are devoted only to the community.  Sexuality (“the stirrings”) is inhibited, as are any romantic relationships. Couples are paired based on temperament.  The only devotion anyone has is to the community and its continued well-being.  When people get too old to be on the work force, they are moved to a nursing home, and are eventually released (compare to the paranoid delusions about “death panels”).

An interesting point of symbolism is Jonas’s gaining the ability to see color.  This happens one color at a time, and (maybe coincidentally, but I doubt it) the first color he sees is red.

A completely secular community where there is no system of currency, people are assigned to jobs, strict birth rate control, and a fiercely collectivist ideology?  It’s basically an exaggerated version of Red China. And when the protagonist realizes the charade, he up and leaves.

I’m not out to criticize Lowry or take sides on economic and social ideologies.  I don’t know if Lowry intended to embed an anti-communist message in her book, but it’s definitely there.

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