Study Guide

The Giver Themes

  • Memory and the Past

    In The Giver, memories are a source of wisdom, but also of pain. We learn that the latter is the cost of the former. We learn from mistakes, and without the memory of those mistakes, we cannot actively make decisions about the future. The novel also argues that memories are meant to be shared; there is a value in the collective knowledge of a generation, and in the way that knowledge is passed on to others. Without the sharing of memories, the memories themselves are of no use.

    The Giver Video

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. What is the value of memory in The Giver? Why does the community need it preserved?
    2. What are the consequences of giving only one person the responsibility of keeping all the memories?
    3. What's the difference between personal memories and the general memories that The Giver passes on to Jonas? Which of these two does Jonas rely on at the end of the novel? Are you sure about that? Better go read the end again.

    Chew on This

    Jonas does his community a service by leaving and releasing the memories to the public.

    Jonas's decision to abandon his community is selfish.

  • Rules and Order

    Because The Giver is an anti-utopian novel, rules and orders are negatively portrayed. They are used to take away freedom, choice, and individuality. The citizens of the novel's overly-controlled "community" aren't even aware that they've lost their freedom. To them, the rules are a good thing; they make life easy, predictable, and manageable. It is this lack of free will that readers tend to find the most terrifying about rules and order in The Giver.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. What is so jarring about the new list of rules that Jonas receives after the Ceremony of Twelve? What seems to bother him the most about this list?
    2. If some rules are taken seriously, and some casually broken, what determines how important a law is in Jonas's society?
    3. If the community has general command over its citizens with tools like the pills against the "Stirrings" and population control, why does it need to have control over the little things, like hair ribbons staying tied?

    Chew on This

    The Giver promotes anarchy.

  • Choices

    In The Giver, we learn that choices about the future cannot be made without knowledge of the past. Because the characters in the novel have no memory, they can not actively decide anything. Instead, they are governed by a strict set of rules which doesn't allow for free will. With little individuality and no freedom, choice is a foreign concept. The argument for such a system is that choice is inherently dangerous. Indeed, the novel says, this is true—but isn't free will worth the risks that come with choice?

    Questions About Choices

    1. What does memory have to do with the freedom to choose?
    2. Why does Jonas get so worked up over the ability to choose between a blue tunic and a red one?
    3. Does Gabriel have more or less freedom than Jonas?
    4. Why does Jonas choose to stop taking his pills? Does it have any effect on him?

    Chew on This

    Of all the characters in The Giver, Jonas's Father is the least free to make his own choices.

  • Language and Communication

    In the highly-controlled society featured in The Giver, the rules govern a strict "precision of language." The irony comes in when the reader realizes that, in a world with no real depth of emotion, many words have become hollow and meaningless. "Love," for example, has no use in this world. Terms like "apology" and "feelings," as well as specific reactions of "anger" or "jealousy" are used daily, though in reality they don't reflect those actions or emotions.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. When The Giver calls Rosemary his daughter, is he speaking literally? What does the word "daughter" mean in this community? What does it mean to The Giver?
    2. Are words for emotions (like "anger" and "love") the only hollow or meaningless terms in the community? If not, what others terms are misconstrued, even despite the attempts at "precision of language?"
    3. Why is the community so obsessed with "precision of language"? What does this have to do with rules and control?

    Chew on This

    The titles "Giver" and "Receiver" are ironic in meaning in The Giver.

  • Isolation

    In The Giver, certain duties necessitate isolation. To gain knowledge and wisdom, for example, is to separate oneself from those without such abilities. This is in part because learning requires solitary reflection, and in part because it's hard to identify with anyone who doesn't share the same wisdom. Being isolated also increases the pain of suffering; with no one to share the weight, the burden is that much greater.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. What is it about his duties as Receiver that isolates Jonas from others?
    2. Does Jonas isolate himself, or do his friends ostracize him?
    3. The Giver and Jonas have to bear the memories on their own. How does this sort of isolation change the way they interpret and deal with their knowledge?

    Chew on This

    Jonas is only able to form close bonds with the very young or the very old because they, too, are exempt from the community's restrictions.

  • Suffering

    In The Giver, we see examples of both physical and emotional suffering. Both types are memories of a distant past since, in this futuristic world, neither exists any longer. The novel argues that suffering, while horrible and painful, is an integral part of the human experience. Without it, we can't hope to learn from the past and make informed decisions to better the future.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. What kind of suffering is worse in The Giver—physical or emotional?
    2. Why does The Giver choose to give Rosemary only emotional or mental pain? Was that a good call?
    3. Are there benefits to suffering in The Giver? Is the community kind of screwed because of their decision to eliminate pain?

    Chew on This

    The Giver argues that suffering must be dealt with in isolation.

    The Giver argues that the only way to cope with suffering is by sharing the burden with others.

  • Old Age

    In the controlled society depicted in The Giver, old age is seemingly treated with respect. When we look closer, though, it becomes clear that the wisdom which the elderly have to offer is wasted. They are treated as children, rather than as knowledgeable individuals, and are basically taken care of until they're killed off. When dealing with the elderly, ritual masks reality, as it does in much of this novel.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. The Giver draws all these strange parallels between the very young and the very old in the community. What's up with that? Why are the Elders so lax when it comes to the rules surrounding these two groups?
    2. If there is no suffering, no memory of the past, and no inter-generational connections, then what do the elderly have to offer the young in this novel?
    3. What prompts Jonas to say that he wants The Giver to be his grandfather? What does he mean by this comment? Is The Giver his grandfather already? Perhaps in the same way that Rosemary was The Giver's daughter? Hmm…

    Chew on This

    The elderly are the least free of all the citizens in the community.

    The elderly are the most free of all the citizens in the community.

  • Tradition and Customs

    Much like rules and laws, traditions and customs are used to control in The Giver. They often disguise the reality of a situation; ritual chanting hides the pain of death. Ritual tellings give meaning to lives that have been lived without individuality or choice. Perhaps more dangerous to freedom than strict laws, traditions control people emotionally, not just behaviorally, in this novel.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. How does the community use laws, and how does it use tradition, to control its citizens?
    2. Is tradition established by the Elders, or does it grow organically from the citizens?
    3. How do the ceremonies in December and the rituals surrounding death affect the citizens? What purpose do the Elders have in mind for these traditions?

    Chew on This

    Traditions threaten the freedom to choose more than rules do in The Giver.