I was made aware of the existence of a book called The Giver when a movie of the same title came out in theaters. Intrigued, I searched out the book in the library and devoured it in a single afternoon. Later, when the movie came out on DVD, I watched it. Since those two fateful occurances, I have developed a love for the story of Jonas.
But, as usual, it isn’t a story to just read. Writers can learn so much from the ingenuity of this book and the topic it covers.
While The Giver has many good attributes, the one that I really think writers can learn from is its willingness to touch on difficult questions.
If you’ve never read or watched The Giver, it’s about a dystopian society in which all emotions, weather, and even color have been drained out of a sectioned-off part of the world, in order to create unanimous Sameness. A young boy named Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, and his new mentor, who dubs himself “the Giver”, passes on memories – memories that have been taken from the people. Memories of light, love, laughter. Memories of a world much more vibrant and colorful than Jonas’ own black and white one. As Jonas receives more of these memories, the more he aches for his world to be like it once was.
I don’t need to spoil anything to talk about the hardhitting topics that The Giver addresses, because I mainly want to talk about Jonas’ world. It’s a place where hate, war, anger, fear, racism, and pain have all been erased. That sounds great, right? It’s essentially perfect – but at what cost?
“The community of the Giver had achieved at such great price. A community without danger or pain. But also, a community without music, color or art. And books.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver
A world without anything negative would be amazing. But The Giver asks a serious question – would a community with no fear or hatred be worth giving up freedom, love, and everything that makes life worth living? The story acknowledges that in a free-will setting, people make bad choices and do bad things:
But if we take away the freedom to choose, The Giver says, we take away the experience of life. If we condense the world into a stiff, uniformed society, we miss the beautiful feelings of love and joy. We never get to see color, animals, and plants. We don’t celebrate birthdays, or weddings, or simple happy occasions. We don’t forge meaningful relationships with others. Is all that worth losing in order to create a “perfect world”?
The Giver also points out that pain, fear, and sadness are emotions that help us grow and mature as people. While unpleasant, they’re a part of life. We’re ultimately better because of them.
Wow. All of that makes you think, doesn’t it? This is such a hard question, but when you finish the book, you start thinking on it. It stirs up such emotion and contemplation. It causes you to step back and evaluate what you know of the world.
What if all writing did that? What if novels challenged you every time you read them? What if they went deep?
I think all writers can ask the hard questions, if we’re brave enough. If we’re daring enough to put those questions out in the open for everyone to see.
Don’t be afraid to build stories around situations and things that other people normally wouldn’t touch. The Giver did exactly that by challenging what we as humans think is “ideal”.
What should you do, then? Read the Giver (or watch it – I’m actually not even picky about which one). Then, go out there and find the hard questions. Ask them. Write them.
What about you? Have you read/watched the Giver? What hard questions have you written about? Do tell!