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Book Review: The Giver

Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a classic read that portrays a bizarre society. Free will is questioned. Human emotions and experiences are absent. The novel creates a thought-provoking discussion regarding life and suffering: would an ideal world incorporate pain?

The Giver depicts life that is orderly, predicable and painless. In the community of Sameness, every individual has a specific, productive role to embody and execute. Choice is nonexistent and personal freedom is not an option.

Upon his twelfth birthday, Jonas is deemed the new Receiver of Memory and must begin training for this highly-respected position. The Receiver carries all the memories of the past that involve both pleasure and pain — nobody in the community is ‘burdened’ with such knowledge.

During training sessions, the current Receiver must give Jonas these memories. He gives him truth, the various realities that comprise the human experience.

The Receiver of Memory is responsible for storing troubling memories, which in turn, prevents suffering for everyone else. Yet, if pain and suffering are eliminated, is the experience of life itself also extinguished? I tend to think that we can derive meaning from overcoming adversity, from transcending pain into strength.

Memories pertaining to beauty, warmth and love are withheld, too. Perhaps the community could not bear to cope with grief, sadness and unpleasant feelings, should change occur — should pleasurable moments cease.

Buddhist notions reiterate that life is suffering and by following a particular path, we can rid ourselves of anguish. However, suffering, even as a result of desire, is part of being human. If we don’t try to go after what we want, if we don’t try to forge connections, afraid of getting hurt, something will inevitably be lost.

“Without desire, we wouldn’t be here,” John Amodeo, PhD, said in a Psych Central article. He references insight from Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist and Buddhist teacher who wrote the book Open to Desire: Embracing A Lust For Life. “To set desire up as the enemy and then try to eliminate it is to seek to destroy one of our most precious human qualities.”

“The scientific research that led to Attachment Theory, pioneered by John Bowlby, tells us that we’re wired with a need for connection — what he calls human attachment,” Amodeo said. “Without strong bonds, our immune system languishes and we’re more prone to anxiety, depression, and other ills. As we welcome our longings and uncover how they’re guiding us, we might find that our deepest longing is to love and be loved. Now, how can that be anything other than sacred?”

The Giver portrays a strict society that attempts to shield its members from suffering and joy. Yet, if pain is eliminated, if feelings and an assortment of experiences are excluded, it poses an unsettling question: are we really living at all?

Book Review: The Giver

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Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her latest book, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” a collection of personal essays, can both be found on Amazon. She loves to be followed on Twitter @LaurenSuval.

APA Reference
Suval, L. (2016). Book Review: The Giver. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
Published on Psych All rights reserved.