The role of memory

The author’s intention 

Lois Lowry, in her award speech at the 1994 Newbery Medal ceremony, which she received for the book The Giver, describes how the idea for the novel came about and what her intention was. The story, Lowry said, grew out of many personal experiences and observations of the world. Her starting point was people who either separated themselves from others or wanted to forget in order to feel better and safe, or people who came together to form a community and were curious and open to others.

Therefore, the importance of memories was the main source for the idea of the novel (see "Origins"). The author believes that painful memories are also important for us as people and for our society. How can you feel happy if you don't know what unhappiness is? How can you know what hunger is if you eat enough every day for the rest of your life?

In the young adult novel The Giver, Lois Lowry conducts a thinking experiment and wonders what it would be like to exclude all cruel memories, as well as pain, danger, and hardship. She creates a seemingly perfect world and describes a society that lives by the principle "only us, only now" and is thus focused only on itself and on the present. 

This mentality already seems similar in several aspects to the attitude towards life of our contemporary society, which is increasingly controlled by screens and lives in a "virtual reality". Lowry predicts in her novel that a future problem-free and perfect world will be sad, colorless, and monotonous.

The importance of painful memories becomes even clearer in another scene Lowry describes to us from her life. The novel she wrote before The Giver is called Number the Stars, (1989) and deals with the Holocaust. 

At the Newbery Medal award ceremony, which Lowry also received for Number the Stars, a woman asked her if it was possible to finally forget the Holocaust . But Lowry, who has spoken to her German daughter-in-law about the issue, believes that it would be dangerous not to remember it. 

Lowry concludes by stressing the importance of passing on memories and knowledge of an "Elsewhere," that is, knowledge of other cultures, people, and feelings, to one's children. 

Lowry considers books as a means for passing on memories and knowledge. This knowledge gives children and young people the ability to look beyond their own horizons and gain freedom and choice. These books are missing from the community in which Jonas lives .

The community without memories

The conformist members of the community do not know any other social structure and therefore do not know that there are possibilities to lead a self-determined life. The absence of memories and the ban on books support the authoritarian state, because in the absence of knowledge, the conformist citizens do not question the government and the rules.

 When Jonas tries to explain to his friends that they should not play their war game, he has to realize: "But he knew that they could not understand why, without the memories." (Chapter 17, 63%). The characters did not know that war means atrocities, suffering, hardships, and death. It is therefore important for young people to learn what wars mean in real terms and the disasters and human tragedies they have caused throughout the centuries and why they have occurred.

The members of the community are left in ignorance. They do not know, for example, that "release" is a euphemism for "kill." They do not learn that this is how the government eliminates the undesirable elements. 

All generations live separately (except for the family unit of parents and children until the children are adults) and thus cannot share experiences with each other. This trend largely characterizes our modern institutionalized society, in which children spend their time in the crèche or kindergarten, young people in school, the elderly in a retirement home or "senior residence", while the active part of the population lives for itself. In the past, people lived in extended families.

In the community, people do not remember those who have died. Those who die too soon, for example, are forgotten. As with the boy Caleb, the ritual of reciting his name is performed. 

The community says the name in chorus until it is forgotten that this boy named Caleb existed. It was the same with Rosemary and it will also happen after Jonas' disappearance . After the old people have been "ceremonially" released, they are also quickly forgotten.

Wisdom through memory

After Jonas is chosen as the new Receiver of Memory, he discovers that a society could be structured and o...

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