The Giver

by: Lois Lowry

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

The ending of the giver has been interpreted in a few different ways. Choose one possible interpretation of the ending and argue its validity, using clues from the text to explain your conclusions.

The two major interpretations of The Giver’s ending are that (1) Jonas and Gabriel have truly escaped the physical boundaries of their society and discovered a real village in Elsewhere, and (2) Jonas’s vision of the village is only a hallucination that he experiences as he and Gabriel freeze to death in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Both arguments can be solidly supported by references in the text.

In order to argue that the two children freeze to death in the snow and that their vision of the village is only an illusion, we can rely on the uncanny similarity between the landscape Jonas sees—or thinks he sees—and the memories the Giver has transmitted to him in the past. It is extremely unlikely that Jonas would come upon a hill that looks just like the hill from his memory of the ride on the sled, and then come upon an identical sled waiting to take him to the bottom of the hill. Given that for the last leg of their journey, Jonas has been relying on memories of sunshine to keep himself and Gabriel alive and happy, it would make sense that Jonas relies on the most pleasant memories he has when the cold and exhaustion grow too much for them. When Jonas admits that the music he thinks he hears behind him might be “only an echo,” he could be implying that the vision before him is an echo too—of his own memory. Another point to consider is that it seems unlikely that Jonas could travel on a bicycle further than search planes could fly and that communities that have not gone over to Sameness could be found so (relatively) close to Jonas’s own community.

To argue that Jonas and Gabriel do survive and reach the village safely to begin a new life, we can explain that although the events of the last pages mirror events from Jonas’s memories, we learn toward the end of the book that Jonas is losing all of the memories that were transmitted to him by the Giver. The last memory that brings him joy is not a memory of sunshine, but a “real” memory of people Jonas has met in his life—his friends and family. This suggests that the things Jonas sees in the world around him are really there, since he has lost the memories. The music that he hears is real, because music was never a part of his memory. The serendipitous appearance of the sled is strange, but not inconsistent with the atmosphere of magic and mysticism that pervades Jonas’s new life and his relationship with the Giver.

Among other things, the community in the giver eliminates most traditional distinctions between men and women, but occasionally stereotypes and customs still exist to distinguish male children from female children and men from women. What rules remain in place in the community that differentiate men from women? Why do you think these specific rules were retained while others were not?

Even though Lowry seems to take pains to eliminate gender stereotypes in the society in The Giver, supporting the idea that everyone in the society is as similar to one another as possible, ideas about the differences between men and women still linger. Of course, it makes sense that girls are given “special undergarments” at age eleven, but it makes less sense that girls wear braids with hair ribbons until age nine. The hair ribbons are the only decorative element mentioned in the entire novel. Perhaps they are just used to distinguish girls from boys, ignoring the original, aesthetic purpose of hair ribbons. Another vestige of gender roles is the structure of the family units: though the roles of “mother” and “father” are not clearly defined, each family consists of a father, mother, sister, and brother. Since no one has sex, and the parents do not produce children together, the persistence of heterosexual couples is either a meaningless echo of the traditional nuclear family or an effort to provide both male and female children with appropriate role models. In any case, the community seems to appropriate some of the gender distinctions of pre-Sameness society, but uses them for entirely different purposes.

The Giver, however, seems to have more nostalgic, traditional notions about gender differences, or at least about femininity. His description of Rosemary emphasizes traditionally feminine qualities: she is beautiful, delicate, and sensitive. He has trouble giving her memories of physical pain and suffering, although he gives them much more easily to Jonas. Jonas, too, associates femininity with gentleness and fragility, even though his father is clearly more gentle and nurturing than his mother. When the Giver tells him about Rosemary, Jonas thinks that he would never want his “favorite female” Fiona to suffer as he has suffered, enduring the difficult memories. Perhaps the nostalgia that the Giver and Jonas feel toward the pre-Sameness period extends to the pre-Sameness traditions of gender differences.

In a book like the giver, which features a society unlike our own, to whom some concepts we consider ordinary would seem completely outlandish, the author must present familiar things—sleds, love, sunburns—with fresh eyes. Choose something ordinary that is described as extraordinary in the book, and evaluate Lowry’s success in capturing strangers’ reactions to the familiar object.

One of the first moments when Jonas encounters something familiar to us, the readers, but totally unfamiliar to him is the moment when the apple changes in midair. Not only is the moment significant as the first time we see Jonas experience something totally new, but it presents an interesting challenge to both the reader and the writer: at this early point in the story, Jonas has not yet begun his training, and so he does not expect unusual things to happen to him. When the apple changes, Lowry must communicate the quality of its change without using any vocabulary or ideas that Jonas would not already know. She cannot tell us directly that there is no color in Jonas’s world, since the entire story is told from Jonas’s perspective: he does not know what color is, so he does not know that color exists. Lowry has to show us somehow that something is missing from Jonas’s world, so that we recognize the “change” that Jonas witnesses as the restoration of the missing quality.

To accomplish this, Lowry places subtle clues throughout the story that call attention to the absence of color. When Lily describes the newchild’s eyes, for example, she mentions that they are “funny” like Jonas’s, without making any mention of their color. Jonas’s meditation about his own eyes continues for a long time without any mention of their color, only of their shade, something that might strike us as slightly unusual. When Jonas takes note of all of the physical qualities of the apple after he has seen it briefly change, he mentions size, shape, and shade, but never the color. This clue is extremely subtle, since “shade” can be a synonym for “color.” The discordant element here is Jonas’s statement that the shade of the apple is “nondescript” like his tunic: we assume the apple is red, and few people would call red “nondescript.” In using subtle indications like these, Lowry allows us to participate in Jonas’s bewilderment at the apple’s change—we stretch our imaginations wondering how an apple could change—and at the same time prepares us for the Giver’s revelation that Jonas is beginning to see color.