The Newbery Medal-winning book provides an opportunity for reflection and discussion about our individual and collective memories, and how these memories shape our identities today as well as influence our future(s).
The book, published in 1993, tells the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a futuristic society in which the needs of all citizens seem to have been met. Protected from poverty, hunger, disease, and violence, people appear happy and content, obediently following the many rules and rituals the society requires. Jonas doesn’t question his role in society and is eagerly awaiting his Assignment – the job he will do as an adult – when he turns 12. At first he is stunned when he learns that he is to be the next Giver, the most honored position in the community. But as he receives what The Giver has to offer – the “memories of the whole world” – Jonas realizes that his world is far from perfect. In order to achieve “Sameness” and security, the society has also sacrificed feelings, color, music, sensation, love, and choice.
Watch a video of author Lois Lowry speaking with Facing History audiences about her inspiration for writing The Giver:
Memory is imperfect, messy, and hard to control. We all have memories that are sad as well as happy, painful as well as healing. We all edit and alter our memories to some extent, choosing to forget the bad and trying to remember the good. But the sum total of our memories – of our childhood, family and cultural history, and society’s past – are an integral part of what makes each of us unique and special. Society’s “memory” (history) helps us to understand our past and hopefully learn from it to create a better future. Denied those kinds of memory, the people in Jonas’s society are unable to form individual identities and make real connections to others.
Check out our guide to The Giver for cross-curricular activities and teaching strategies that build reading and writing skills, and explore the book’s themes, including memory, identity, choice, and the relationship between the past and the present. By helping young people – and ourselves – see how individual (personal, family) and collective (cultural, historical) memories shape who we are, we can help them gain insights about themselves and their relationships with others. This in turn can empower them to better envision and articulate their own hopes and dreams for their futures.
How do our individual and collective memories shape who we are today and influence our future(s)? Comment below.