Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Giver

Clearly I need to go to a theater or a bookstore more often, because my posts have gotten more and more infrequent.  ANYWHO, I have a little announcement before I get into my book review today: my poem "Missing Language" has been posted on BOP Journal, so be sure to check that out.  Again, I'm under the pseudonym "Juliette Chavez."  What do you guys think of that?  Should I use it for future publishing?  If you're a writer, poet, musician, or artist from age 13-21, you are more than welcome to submit your works as well.  If you're not one, but you know someone who is, send them the link.  They're always looking for submissions.

Now we get to the serious business, namely THE GIVER by Lois Lowry.  (Note: this is the review of the book, not the movie, which from what I can tell is almost completely different.)  Jonas the main character lives in a "perfect" society where there is no war, no pain, and no memories (with the exception of one person - the Receiver of Memory).  Jonas is selected by the Elders to be the new Receiver of Memory, who is the only one who knows what life was like "back and back and back."  As Jonas learns just how much was sacrificed to make the sameness of current society possible, important questions emerge.  If people are allowed to choose, and they choose wrong, is it better to not let them choose at all?  Are all the good things (love, affection, beauty) worth giving away along with the bad things (war, suffering, pain) in order to make a society that experiences neither?  Besides these provocative questions, there is something even bigger that I noticed also woven into the world that Lowry has created.

Before I get into that though, I want to briefly establish what standpoint I'm speaking from.  Scripps has not been afraid to confront me with the violence that subtly persists in our society in ways that a lot of us take for granted.  In our society, there is a lot of systematic violence (i.e. people of color are disproportionately represented in incarcerated populations) as well as forms of micro-aggression (i.e. asking an immigrant when they're going back home).  This has been frequently pointed out to me during my time in college.  I was disturbed to see parallels between the completely government-run, decision-free, ordered society of Jonas and our society now.  For instance, the current Receiver of Memory (renamed the Giver) tells Jonas that people used to have different skin colors, but today genetic scientists have made it so that "flesh is all the same."  Given that Jonas has begun to see the "red tones" in people's faces (and the fact that the whole cast for the movie is white), I think it's probably safe to say that everybody in this universe is white.  I'm just going to let that sink in for a little bit.  All of the people of color have essentially been wiped out?  Yup, I think that's what it means.  Just like society has been trying to do since time began (if you disagree please look to Native American history for just one example)?  Oh yeah.

Are there any disabled people in the community?  If they "release" a baby from the community because of its lower birthweight, the answer is probably no.  Old people?  Also released, after a certain time.  Why is anyone who is different released?  Because we need to create order.  We can't have anyone shaking things up.  We have precise language.  We have rules.  We have safety.  We have sameness.  If you don't measure up to our standards, you're out.  As I learn more about the (invisible) racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and other -isms that operate today, I realize that in our world minorities are removed/oppressed as silently, discreetly, and horribly as they are in The Giver world.  Perhaps the methods are different, but most of the characters are as unaware of the violence as many of us in the real world.

Now, I know this seems more like a rant about how society is terrible than an actual book review, but I actually think this is a good thing.  This book got me thinking.  A lot.  Perhaps not exactly in the direction that Jonas takes (although I certainly thought about that as well), but the book makes an impact either way.  If I'm still rolling my mind around the universe that Lowry magnificently fabricates in The Giver, I take it as a good sign that it deserved its Newberry Medal.  What's left for me now is to watch the movie whenever I get the chance to rent it.  I think I'll have to look at it as its own story, rather than an accurate adaptation of the book, in order to appreciate it when I review it.  If you have found anything in this post to be problematic or exclusionary (I left out quite a few things in my society rant), please comment below and let me know.

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