I have recently had the glorious opportunity of reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Never have I read such a beautiful, sentimental, and thought-provoking book. Had I read this book when I was younger, I would have never understood its deeper, poignant meaning. Thus, I am grateful to have waited so long to treat myself to such an enlightening book. Because I connected so strongly with this book, I will break it up into separate parts that will discuss the many aspects of its philosophies by comparing it to Plato, Socrates, the Existentialists, and the Matrix.
Throughout the book, something seemed familiar about its perspective on philosophy. It then hit me! The book is analogous to one of Plato’s philosophies. Plato’s theory of Forms, simply explained, states that we live in one of two parallel worlds, one of which is perfect and has no flaws. Plato theorizes that we live in the lesser, imperfect of the two. Everything we perceive is not actually as it appears, they are distortions, for the true forms only exist in the alternate, perfect universe. You can see where I am going with this. Think of the community Jonas lives in as that imperfect world; poor Jonas lives a mundane life full of repetition and devoid of any colors or emotions. I am now going to introduce a new concept by summarizing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which works hand in hand with his theory of Forms. As I tell this story, I will point out its parallels within The Giver. Several people are born and raised in a cave. These individuals, who are chained, rely only on a single fire that reflects the outside world in shadows. Their whole lives are lived believing these silhouettes. Compare this to the “utopia” of The Giver in which children are raised in a completely sheltered environment that teaches them to live a predetermined and conformed life. Eventually, one of the prisoners is cut from his chains and is allowed to see the outside world. He is bewildered to find that he has been observing fragments of reality. Exposed to sunlight and animals among other things, he realizes that the shadows were not accurate. Jonas is given memories of things he never knew existed. With his discoveries come pleasure and suffering. This is a good time to reference the Eastern philosophy’s Yin and Yang (opposite forces result in harmony and balance). Everything Jonas was taught has been a lie. Society has hidden away the truths of the world in exchange for a seemingly perfect life. When the escaped prisoner returns to the cave and reports all of the wonderful things he has seen, the other prisoners kill him. Their ignorance and blind devotion led them to believe that the man was trying to corrupt them. It is now revealed to Jonas how damaging it is to reveal his wisdom. The very people that raised him and those he called friends were believing something that simply wasn’t true. They were all living under a web of lies. When Jonas questions why things are the way they are, The Giver repeats his memorable, “The decision was made long before my time and yours […] and before the previous Receiver and back and back and back” (113). To sum up this paragraph, Plato is commonly attributed to saying, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
For further reading: 501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)