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Study Guide: The Giver: Theme, Motifs and Symbols

What are the themes and Motifs of The Giver?

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

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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.

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Old Age

n 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Themes of the Giver

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