Value of Memory to Humans and Life in “The Giver”
The Value of Memory
A theme is a universal idea, lesson or message explored throughout a work of literature. In this essay, I will discuss the significant themes within Lois Lowry’s novel, The Giver. One of the key themes in The Giver is the value of memory to humans and life. For those who didn’t know, Lowry was inspired to write The Giver after visiting her old father, who had lost most of his long term memory. She began to realize that without memory, there is no pain.
If you cannot remember physical pain, you might as well not have experienced it, and you cannot feel lament or grief if you cannot remember the events that hurt you. At some point in the past, Jonas’s community decided to eliminate all pain from their lives. To do so, they had to give up the memories of their society’s mutual experiences. This allowed them to forget all the pain that had been suffered throughout human history, prevent members of the society from wanting to engage in activities and relationships that could result in conflict and, eliminated any longing for the things the community gave up to live in total harmony.
According to the novel, however, memory is very important. The Committee of Elders does recognize the practicality of memory. If you don’t remember your errors, you might repeat them. Because of this, the community designates someone called a Receiver to remember history for them. But as Jonas starts undergoing his training, he starts to learn that just as there is no pain without memory, there is also no true happiness and emotions. One thing that particularly upsets Jonas is when he learns about the process of release. In short, they kill innocent people and label it as Release. Lois Lowry demonstrates this in the book as follows, “He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing”(Giver 150). The community doesn’t see anything wrong with this though, due to the absence of memories. Jonas learns they are soon going to release a child named Gabriel, which Jonas has recently become attached to. In light of these things, Jonas decides that he has to bring change in the community.
Relevant to the theme of memory is the concept that there can be no pleasure without difficulty and no difficulty without pleasure. Despite how enjoyable an experience is, you cannot enjoy the pleasure it gives you unless you have some memory of a time when you have suffered and had pain. If not, then joy and good experiences are the norm and are not appreciated. The members of Jonas’s community cannot appreciate the joys in their lives because they have never felt pain, their lives are repetitive and dull, and lack emotional diversity. Similarly, they do not feel pain or grief because they do not appreciate the true wonder and meaning of life. Death is not tragic to them because life is not precious and valued. Lois Lowry demonstrates this clearly by stating the following, “”Listen to me, Jonas. They can’t help it. They know nothing… It’s the way they live. It’s the life that was created for them”(Giver 152). This is shown when they easily kill innocent children and the elderly. When Jonas obtains memories from the Giver, the memories of hardship open him to the idea of love and affection as much as the memories of bliss do.
At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas’s community celebrates the contrast between the twelve-year-old children for the first time in their lives. For many children, twelve is an age when they are struggling to carve out an identity for themselves and differentiating themselves from their parents and peers. The Giver is the story of Jonas’s development into an individual, maturing from a child who relies upon his community into a young man with unique abilities, dreams, and desires. The Giver can even be seen as a story for this process of maturation. Twelve year old Jonas rejects a society where everyone is the same and wants to follow his own path. The novel encourages readers to celebrate differences instead of pretending they do not exist.
- Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 1993. PP. 150-152.
- Scopa, Sally. “”Theme.”” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/theme 5 May 2017. Web. 6 May 2019.