As another reviewer said, The Giver can be thought of as an 1984 aimed at a young adult audience. But there’s more to the book: it combines themes discussed extensively in other more complex works, in an accessible and fluent manner, suitable for a 12-year old.
The Giver describes a society of genetically-modified individuals, built around “Sameness”, where everyone has a role (in work and in family – a job and a spouse) established for life by a committee, and where freedom of choice is reduced to trivial matters. Ayn Rand expands on this theme in the dystopian Anthem, but The Giver posits a more balanced stance:
We don’t dare to let people make choices of their own.”
“Not safe?” The Giver suggested.
“Definitely not safe,” Jonas said with certainty. “What if they were allowed to choose their own mate? And chose wrong?
“Or what if,” he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, “they chose their own jobs?”
“Frightening, isn’t it?” The Giver said.
Jonas chuckled. “Very frightening. I can’t even imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”
“Yes,” Jonas agreed. “Much safer.”
Besides solving the paradox of choice, a utopian choice-free society apparently deals away with many of the problems that our society faces by letting individuals choose their jobs and mates (job satisfaction and divorce rates are both around 50% in the US). This probably explains why some think that the book glorifies communism.
However, the very next sentence from the paragraph above negates that impression:
But when the conversation turned to other things, Jonas was left, still, with a feeling of frustration that he didn’t understand. (98-99)
After the main character, Jonas, gains the ability to see beyond the sheltered and fabricated lifestyle of the society, he attempts to explain the reality of his newly found awareness to his friends, without success. They simply cannot conceive any other perceptions than their own. This theme (inconceivability) is given exquisite treatment in Edwin Abbott’s Flatland.
Peculiar elements of style in the book
- only when Jonas becomes able to perceive “red”, does the reader realize that colors were not used at all in any depictions in the book.
- Jonas’s parents do not have names. Their (assigned) children address them by role: Mother and Father.
- there is a bit too much requirement for suspension of disbelief when it comes to the mechanics of memories: memories appear to have an existence somewhat independent of human minds: when a carrier of memories dies or physically goes too far from the community, the community receives all their memories.
- technology is unevenly developed: there are fighter and reconnaissance planes, and extremely effective pain relief medication, yet despite the fact that computers exist (Jonas mentions them at some point), they apparently are not used to store any memories instead of the thousands of books which are in the sole possession of the Receiver of Memories
- as mentioned in Wikipedia, there are 50 children born each year to Birthmothers, only one of twins are allowed to survive, and Birthmothers only give birth for 3 years, after which they are assigned to perform physical labor. That means that every 3 years, 50 new Birthmothers are required, or that 34% of the population is a Birthmother. Yet Birthmother is a profession with “very little honor”.
My rating: 85%.