Lowis Lowry's The Giver is the story of Jonas in a utopian society. Jonas is just like any other member of the society who learns to use precise language (avoiding phrases like "I'm starving" because he is not and never will be--He is just hungry), manages his years as a One, Two, Three and so on, and works to complete his Community Service. When Jonas becomes a Twelve, he receives a special Assignment as The Receiver of memory. He is told that his job will be painful but he has no idea what the struggles are that are before him because he is not familiar with the concepts of color, choice, and individuality.
Students will struggle with several things in this novel. First of all, teaching this novel to a reading-level appropriate students will be difficult because students may not be able to maintain maturity at the concept of "Stirrings." Just before Jonas becomes a Twelve he has his first dream and is further assigned to take a pill each day to eliminate these "Stirrings." Secondly, students will struggle with understanding the setting at the beginning of the story. Since many students read books about and watch television shows where the characters are about them, many will struggle to understand the environment which Jonas lives. At first, they may not be able to identify with his struggles to understand the concepts of snow and color.
Two key literary features are imagery and the characteristics of a specific genre. Even if I were not able to teach the entire novel many of the descriptions provided through The Giver's memories are beautiful. As Jonas first encounters snow, the descriptions that Lowery provides are very interesting. Many of the images provided by The Giver's memories are unique because they are Jonas's first experiences with concepts that appear very different to us. The world of The Giver is a utopian society, a perfect world as envisioned by its creators. The members of the community do not experience fear, pain, hunger, illness, conflict, and hatred. But in order to maintain the peace and order, the citizens of the community in The Giver have to submit to strict rules governing their behavior, their relationships, and even their language. They have to give up individual freedom and human passions. They also lack the basic freedoms and pleasures that our own society values. The Giver is of a particular brand, called dystopian literature, where societies that might seem to be perfect because all the inhabitants are well fed or healthy or seemingly happy are revealed to be profoundly flawed because they limit the intellectual or emotional freedom of the individual. Jonas becomes angry when he realizes that no one ever has a choice or knows when they are doing something profoundly wrong. Jonas makes the decision to leave the community after seeing his father "Release" or kill an infant.
One teaching activities include having students act out or write one of their daily interactions as if they were members of the community. This application level exercise would help students to connect to the literature and realize the freedoms they have in their daily lives. Students would also learn from writing their own first memory of snow or their first visit to the ocean. After reading the passages describing some of the memories students would be able to develop stronger descriptive writing.