After a re-read, I can no longer think of The Giver as simply a childish sci-fi tale with heavy moralistic leanings. What I see now is a story about growing up and confronting the world outside of the safe haven of childhood.
Well, yes, of course, it *IS* a dystopian tale about a young boy growing up in the commune of sameness that is devoid of colors or intense feelings or individuality - and the said boy has an unusual ability to experience what the others are missing out on, and he selflessly sets out to bring that experience to others at the cost of his own life, likely, and you can see it as an ode to individuality over sameness, written shortly after the end of the Cold War. But let's focus on the other aspects first, and worry about this later. Because that's not how I choose to see this book now.
The way I do choose to see it after this reread is a story of a child learning to see past the happy and safe confines of childhood into the bigger world and realizing that the wonderful security of childhood, the rules and foundations of that world no longer apply in the adult universe. Remember how small and secure the world was for most of us when we were children? There were rules designed to keep the world simple and predictable, and to keep us safe. There were adults who had fascinating jobs and were in charge of keeping our world safe and protected. There was a valid concept of 'that's not fair!' It was simple and secure, and everything happened for a good reason. At least it's how I remember it through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
In this book, I see the realization that people's lives are very different from what you perceive as a child, and that it's going to happen to you, too. That those who were the core of your world not so long ago - family and childhood friends - may drift away and become distant as you make your way through adulthood and form new unexpected and vitally important relationships that overturn the world you are used to. And you will learn that the world may not be the stable place you know - that there is unexpected beauty just as there is unexpected cruelty and pain. That your feelings will change, will intensify until they reach the peak only possible in the early youth.
All the above is what happens to Jonas - and I think it's an experience that everyone goes through; here it's only underscored by Jonas being a special snowflake (no pun intended). The onslaught of powerful emotions, the feeling of loneliness and not fitting in with the world you grew up in, the sudden knowledge that the world is not what you thought it to be - it's what we all go through when growing up, and that's where the strength of this book lies. The wave of nostalgia combined with the red sled on the snow - of course it's red. (I guess we all need some allusions to Citizen Kane's Rosebud hidden in children's literature? So that children can grow up, realize the allusion and say, "oh, hey there...")
Now the things that still make me sigh and shrug. Like the taking-it-for-granted Western culture emphasis on the importance of individualism over collectivism (and, written just a few years after the Cold War, this book of course would have these sentiments of the culture that prevailed). We are conditioned to perceive individuality as a bright alternative to the grey and drab Sameness - but, when you read into it, this book decries this world of Sameness only superficially.
"The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without color, pain, or past."
Yes, it's drab as our special Jonas sees it - but the world that eradicated poverty and war cannot be something to just snicker at. One of the motifs here is that pain is important, that pain helps shape us into full human beings with full emotional range - but isn't it often a fairy tale we, adults, tell ourselves, thus making us feel better about our imperfect world full of pain and suffering and senseless wars and hunger? These are what makes our human experience full, we say; this is the price of being able to let our individualities shine.
"But why can't everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldn't have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part."
The Giver sighed. "You're right," he said. "But then everyone would be burdened and pained. They don't want that. And that's the real reason The Receiver is so vital to them, and so honored. They selected me - and you - to lift that burden from themselves."
But is returning to the world we all know - the world that has teeth and can bite you with them anytime it wants (yes, that's a nod to Stephen King, why'd you ask?) - the only way to happiness? Superficially, this book seems to suggest that it may be - but the fact that it made me think past what's on the surface suggests otherwise. Written for children, it does have something for adults to ponder about.
And even more of the beautiful ambiguity for me lies in the ending - Jonas' fate.
For ten-year-olds reading this book, it's probably Jonas and Gabriel finally reaching the idyllic place of love and warmth and the happy exhilaration of that first memory of red sled on a hill becoming reality. For adults, it's the happiness of the final dream of red sled - Rosebud? - in the moments before your consciousness fades into death. However you choose to see the ending is up to you. To me, it's the final sacrifice of Jonas for the sake of the others - individuality that makes the sacrifice for the good of community. It's touching and powerful, and is the perfect way to end the story.
3.5 red sleds - rounding up to 4.