Countless elementary, middle and high school students read Lois Lowry’s The Giver every year, and every year they learn of the dark secrets beneath the surface of the book’s seemingly utopian society. The Giver has sold millions of copies around the world and influenced young adult literature since it was originally published in 1993.
More than 20 years later – between several film releases in the same genre – The Giver film will retell an unforgettable story when it’s released August 15, 2014. Professor of Political Science Claire Curtis, who studies utopias and dystopias, and Adjunct Professor of English Caroline Hunt, who spent many years teaching young adult literature, cover seven ways The Giver is different for adult readers.
1. You’ve read more utopian literature.
When you first read The Giver, perhaps sometime in middle school, it was probably your first foray into utopian and dystopian genres. Through high school and college, though, you may have read George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and maybe even Plato’s The Republic, so you’re more aware of The Giver’s roots.
“The Giver is a novel in the utopian tradition of Brave New World,” Curtis said. “It presents a utopian idea that seems good and as the story unfolds, the reader realizes why it isn’t, unlike 1984, which tells the reader from page one that the story is set in a terrible place.” With a developed literary background, you’ll be able to see references to and ideas from past works in The Giver and subsequent utopian/dystopian novels.
2. You’ve read (and watched… and loved…) The Hunger Games and other young adult dystopian literature
Just like you can compare The Giver to older works of its genre, you can compare it to newer young-adult dystopian novels too. These often tackle the question of exposing a society as dystopian in a different way.
“Very few of the recent accounts even try to make their settings seem utopian,” Curtis explained. “Instead they do the easy part; they present a heroic young person who is in a terrible situation and who has to rise up against it. It glorifies the idea of revolution, whereas The Giver is about nonviolence and walking away.”
3. You know what’s coming – kind of.
If you did, in fact, read The Giver in middle school, then it’s been a while. The parts you may have found shocking as a child, you’ll find more deeply disturbing as an adult.
“The Giver is one of the most banned books in the country,” Hunt said. “When you reread it, you realize how alarming some of the parts of the book are. It’s a very visual novel, so the reader really understands what’s going on in the more gruesome scenes.”
4. You can fill in the blanks
“Lowry wrote more and more sparsely throughout her career,” Hunt said. In other words, Lowry let her readers infer much of the meaning in her books rather than making explicit statements. As an adult, you will pick up on some the symbolism you might have missed as a child. Like, for example, Jonas’ world is literally black and white…
5. You can answer the tough questions
“Like many of the earlier utopian novels and short stories, The Giver is a book that’s about good and evil and what falls in between,” Curtis said. “It makes readers question the cost of their own happiness and forces them to think critically about the world they live in – how do you reconcile the fact that you have food with the knowledge that people are starving? Part of being an adult is facing those questions and forming your own opinions and answers.”
6. Oh yeah, it’s part of a series
While The Giver is often taught as a standalone novel with an ambiguous ending, it’s actually part of a four-book series that demystifies the first book’s conclusion. Many loyal Lowry readers have only recently completed the series since the final installment – which takes place in The Giver‘s society, unlike the middle two books – wasn’t published until October 2012. As an adult reader now, you can find new meaning in The Giver and finally read all the books.
Featured images courtesy of amazon.com and schmoesknow.com.