Suggested Essay Questions
What does the ending of The Giver mean for our interpretation of the text?
Answer: Lowry has left the ending ambiguous. The more likely approach is to decide that Jonas did die and was merely hallucinating at the end of the novel, which could imply a pessimistic ending that completes our image of a dystopia that cannot provide its citizens with both safety and independence. Under this interpretation, we also see the difficulty of separating oneself from the collective; successful resistance requires more than just one or two people. One might decide instead that Jonas coincidentally finds the sled and Elsewhere at the conclusion of the novel. This development might suggest the ability of the human spirit to survive centuries of suppression and hint that Jonas's society will recover from the adverse effects of Sameness. It is important to note that in a later novel, Messenger, Lowry resolves the ambiguity by suggesting that Jonas survived, but this does not invalidate the possible interpretation that Jonas died.
What is the significance of snow in The Giver?
Answer: Jonas's experiences with his memories are intimately connected with the idea of snow, from his first received transmission of sledding through snow on a hillside to his experience of a broken leg and finally to his real encounter with it at the novel's conclusion. As with many other things that have been eradicated through Sameness, snow involves the dangers that the community chose to end in its quest for safety. At the same time, however, it brings Jonas great joy, through his exhilaration in his first memory and in his apparent recognition of the existence of Elsewhere in the last chapter. Snow is neither good nor bad, but the novel implies that its absence takes some essential aspect away from the world. Removing a risk involves removing the benefits that could have resulted from taking the risk.
What meanings does the phrase "back and back and back" hold within the novel?
Answer: The phrase represents the traditional role of The Receiver within Jonas's community, and it gives a sense of history and continuity to the position of Receiver. Yet, as Jonas notes later in the novel, it also represents the burden and constraints that the society has given to The Receiver in the search for safety and Sameness. Whereas The Receiver is forced to remember "back and back and back" and understand all the pains of humanity, the rest of the community has no sense of history and thus loses both the positive and negative aspects of retaining a common history. For the community, the earlier times were times of hurt and danger, "backward" times that the people do not want to remember or relive.
How does The Giver's acquaintance with Jonas change The Giver's outlook on life?
Answer: Although most people read The Giver's relationship to Jonas in terms of The Giver's teachings to Jonas--The Giver is in control, helping Jonas develop wisdom to augment his intelligence and courage--The Giver also gains some wisdom himself over the course of their relationship. Prior to meeting Jonas, The Giver had resigned himself to the stagnant nature of both the community and his role within the society, judging that the society was supreme and that he was powerless. However, by seeing the changes that his memories and teachings effect in Jonas, he learns that he also has the ability to teach others and perhaps reverse the oppression of individuals. By talking to Jonas about the problems of their society, he gains the resolve to make a difference and affect the society's future course.
Discuss how the idea of release is used in The Giver.
Answer: Because the nature of release is not revealed until very late in the novel--at a point that could be considered the climax of the plot--the continued references to the mysterious process of release unsettle us and lead us to suspect that it is intentionally hidden because of moral cracks in the society. The narrative introduces us to the idea of release in the first chapter as an apparently excessive punishment for a pilot's innocent mistake while indicating the presence of fear, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The novel then proceeds to both soothe and unnerve as it alternates examples of people who are happy to be released with those who are banished from the community for wrongdoing or for simply being weak. Considering that the Old are eventually released, it is not hard to figure out that being released means being euthanized. When the process of release is finally revealed, we are not surprised to see that it is lethal injection. The long period before the novel's revelation adds to its significance in revealing the problems in the community's structure. If the society has really done away with the troubles of this world, why do they still call euthanasia a release? Figuratively, people are being released from the bondage of the oppression in this tightly controlled society, but of course they do not see it in this way.
Discuss the role of family in The Giver.
Answer: Over the course of the novel, Jonas forms in a sense a second family. The first one consists of his family unit, and the second is a new family including Gabriel and perhaps also The Giver, who are joined to him by the transference of memories. The first unit serves as a foil for the second, as its apparent functionality is shown to be somewhat lacking in real love or permanent attachment. Most families are tightly controlled for the sake of the society (compare Plato's treatment of families in the Republic). In contrast, Jonas's relations with The Giver and with Gabriel are more suggestive of the love that he feels in the memory of family and grandparents, and the novel suggests that their ability to feel true emotions such as love represents what is lacking in the rest of the community.
How do Asher and Fiona illuminate our understanding of Jonas's character?
Answer: Asher and Fiona serve as foils throughout the novel for Jonas. Initially, Asher's character description in particular highlights Jonas's characteristics of intelligence and thoughtfulness. Later in the novel, however, as Jonas's training begins to alienate him from the community, Asher's and Fiona's behavior during the war game shows the lack of understanding that results from their lack of historical awareness. The revelation that Fiona is training in release serves as a final indication of how Jonas has grown apart from the conventions and cruelties of his society.
Discuss the role of solitude or isolation in Jonas's experiences.
Answer: At one point in the novel, Lowry references the positive aspects of solitude as learned by Jonas through transmitted memories. However, for the most part, the effect of Jonas's role as Receiver-in-Training is to isolate him and make him experience the more negative aspects of his society. Because he has been trained to act always as a member of a group, he now learns that to honor The Receiver increases his burdens by adding the pain of loneliness to the weight of his memories. In his role as sage, he will always stand apart. He will develop his own sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, based on unique experiences that the regular society never has. His distanced vantage point allows him to critique the society more fully than he would have been able to do had he remained a normal member of the collective.
Write a second ending for The Giver that tells the fate of the community after Jonas's departure.
Answer: This question asks you to engage in a creative exercise. One might address the community's reaction to the loss of Jonas and what the people and The Giver are thinking as the people search for him. More importantly, one might consider the community's reaction to the return of their memories and about The Giver's attempt to help them. Such an ending could be written from the perspective of The Giver or the perspective of one of the members of the community, such as Jonas's sister Lily or his friend Asher. The narrative could then describe whether the community chose to reject or keep Sameness or what small risks the community began to take in order to appreciate individuality and the chance of developing a stronger, more free society.
How does Jonas's training as The Receiver of Memory serve as a coming-of-age story?
Answer: Jonas and his society proceed from the assumption that after the Ceremony of Twelve, all of the new Twelves are no longer mere children, although they stay with their family units and continue their schooling. However, Jonas's training reveals that after just twelve years of life, he has not acquired the wisdom necessary to approach his life as an adult. In his interactions with The Giver, he acquires this wisdom and mentally ages rapidly through his experiences of war, death, and starvation. This approach to development contrasts with that of Fiona and Asher, both of whom remain in a sense like children because their experiences do not grant them self-awareness and maturity.
The Giver Essays and Related Content
- The Giver: Major Themes
- The Giver: Questions
- The Giver: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Lois Lowry: Biography
- The Giver Summary
- About The Giver
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-17
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23
- Utopia and Dystopia in Literary and Historical Context
- Related Links on The Giver
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources