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Ancestry of The Giver
Sherri Bryan San Jose State UniversityLIBR 268-10, Summer 2012
Author: Lois Lowry Year Published: 1993 Genre: Young Adult (YA) Dystopian Fiction Plot Synopsis: When Jonas receives his assignment of Receiver of Memories at age 12, he begins to see problems with his society, in which passion and choice are nonexistent. Ultimately he takes significant risks to help change the course of the future for both him and for the members of the community.
Historical & Social Context: Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the early ‘90s Dr. Kevorkian’s euthanasia device and legal case in 1990 In 1993, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX was raided; 87 people died in a mass suicide, all followers of David Koresh, who had managed to gain supreme control over the group
Brave New World 1984Images from wikipedia.org & soojinkinm.wordpress.com Images from designkultur.wordpress.com
Author: Aldous Huxley Year Published: 1932 Genre: Adult Dystopian Fiction Plot Synopsis: In this 26th century society, people’s lives are completely controlled by the government. Fetuses are created in test tubes, children are brainwashed through whispered messages in their sleep, humans are divided into various castes, and a happiness drug is freely distributed to everyone. Bernard, Helmholtz, and John are dissatisfied with this life and must decide what price they are willing to pay to change things.
Historical & Social Context: Beginning of a worldwide depression—stock market crashed in 1929, and farmers are suffering from horrible droughts Technology is beginning to replace workers Henry Ford invented the factory assembly line in 1914 and can now mass produce cars Advertising for goods is beginning to take off Victorian values are being rejected; youth are questioning rigid attitudes about social class and sexuality Fad of sleep teaching is popular Scientists such as Pavlov are exploring concept of human engineering
Author: George Orwell Year Published: 1949 Genre: Adult Dystopian Fiction Plot Synopsis: In the totalitarian superpower of Oceania where telescreens are omnipresent (Big Brother is watching!) Winston Smith begins to question the government, a crime for which he is ultimately tortured and “cured.”
Historical & Social Context: World War II has just ended Stalin is totalitarian leader of Soviet Union who mercilessly kills his enemies Hitler has just been responsible for the deaths of 15 million individuals in the Holocaust Mao Tse-tung is fighting for communism in China Societal fear of communism and totalitarianism is growing Dawn of nuclear age Most families do not yet have television in their homes
Futuristic setting that is sterile and controlled Lack of privacy and freedom for individuals in community Government uses tools to control the population (e.g., drugs/pills in BNW and Giver) People in community are divided into castes or social class systems, sometimes by profession Free will and individuality are given up in exchange for complete social stability Main character (protagonist) desires freedom and wants to rebel Main character exists to save the community
While it is clear that The Giver shares some keyfeatures with the classic adult dystopias 1984 and BraveNew World, there are also several key differences amongthe novels. The young adult protagonist in Lowry’s novelclearly distinguishes it from these earlier works writtenfor adults. In order to get a truer sense of The Giver’sancestry, let us also look at two dystopian works writtenspecifically for the young adult reader.
The White Mountains The Dream CatcherImages from arvidland.com and magpiewrites.blogspot.com Images from amazon.co.uk and goodreads.com
Author: John Christopher (real name: Sam Youd) Year Published: 1967 Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction Plot Synopsis: An invasion by aliens (Tripods) has drastically reduced the human population. Upon reaching adolescence, humans are fitted with metal skullcaps that control their brains and make them docile. Three 13 year old boys (Will and Henry Parker and Jean Paul) flee to the White Mountains to try to escape capping and join a group of rebel humans there who are also seeking personal freedom.
Historical & Social Context: Vietnam War is ongoing Race riots are breaking out in a number of U.S. cities Focus on space exploration and race to the moon Color TVs becoming popular Star Trek episodes began in 1966; explore sci fi concepts First heart transplant and first ATM Rise of birth control pill
Author: Monica Hughes Year Published: 1986 Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction Plot Synopsis: In the 22nd century, following an “Age of Confusion” brought on by the end of oil, communities called Arks, each with distinct civilizations and missions, have been created. Fourteen year old Ruth, a misfit, along with some companions, sets out on a difficult journey to the world beyond the Ark.
Historical & Social Context: Space shuttle Challenger explodes Halley’s Comet reaches the closest point to the earth’s sun Chernobyl nuclear disaster Human genome project is launched Internet Mail Access Protocol defined, opening the way for email Mad cow disease identified in UK Supreme court reaffirms abortion rights
Stories set in a rigorously planned society Society has charismatic leader(s) or mastermind(s) Society has hierarchical social structure in which everyone has his place Society uses tools to control populace (skullcaps in White Mountains, pills in The Giver, technology in all 3 books) Society prizes collective well-being over fate of individual Society lacks a connection to the natural world Individuals have no control over reproductive freedom Most members of society unquestioningly accept the status quo
Young adults in society are assigned or chosen for a function in the adult world Young adult (YA) protagonist becomes central character in dystopian society YA protagonist questions society and ultimately rebels against it YA protagonist sets out on a difficult physical journey to escape or change society YA protagonist faces typical adolescent emotions and experiences (sexual feelings, shame/embarrassment, confusion, etc.) YA protagonist pays a price for the well being of whole community
We can see that The Giver shares numerous story elementswith these two YA ancestors. Many of these similarities can betraced back to 1984 and Brave New World as well. Despite thesemany connections, however, Lowry’s novel still feels distinctlydifferent. It feels like the beginning of something new. The Giverdoesn’t feel like science fiction, as all the rest of these ancestors soclearly do. It feels real and almost entirely possible. There are noaliens or tripod monsters here. In addition, with The Giver we arenot aware of any cataclysmic event, manmade or otherwise, thathas occurred. It doesn’t feel apocalyptic. There hasn’t been a bigwar that we know of and the world hasn’t run out of oil. Perhapsthis contributes to the more realistic feel of the story. Finally, TheGiver is far less dark in many ways then these ancestors. The readercan choose an optimistic ending here, and adolescent readers canwalk away feeling there is some hope that they indeed have thepower to change the course of history.
In tracing the The Giver’s ancestry, and in lookingat historical contexts in particular, it becomes clear thatno matter the generation, we as humans always seem tohave plenty to fear. Technology always feels scary, andalways seem to be advancing too rapidly. There is never ashortage of corrupt, power-hungry politicians. Worldpeace has yet to be a reality. And tragedies happen. Ouranxieties about the present and where it may be takingus are ideal fodder for the world of dystopian fiction. Aswe know, the genre is exploding, and young adults arehungry for more.
Cart, M. (2010). Carte Blanche: Dateline Darkness. Booklist, 106(18), 34.Grossman, L. (2012). Love Among the Ruins. Time, 179(10), 100-102.Hintz, C. (2002). Monica Hughes, Lois Lowry, and young adult dystopias.The Lion and the Unicorn, 26(2), 254-264."Historical Context: Brave New World." EXPLORING Novels. Detroit:Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center - Gold. Web. 1 Mar. 2010."Historical Context: The Giver." Novels for Students. Detroit: Gale, 1998.Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Aug. 2012.Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Pfeiffer, J. R. (2002). "John Christopher." British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960. Ed. Darren Harris-Fain. Detroit: Gale Group.Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 255. Literature Resource Center.Web. 6 Aug. 2012.Phelan, C. (April 1, 1987). "Review of The Dream Catcher." Booklist 83(15),1206. Rpt. in Childrens Literature Review. Ed. Deborah J. Morad andMichelle Lee. Vol. 60. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature ResourceCenter. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.Shmoop Editorial Team. (November 11, 2008).Brave New World Summary.Retrieved August 6, 2012, from http://www.shmoop.com/brave-new-world/summary.htmlShmoop Editorial Team. (November 11, 2008).1984 Summary. RetrievedAugust 6, 2012, from http://www.shmoop.com/1984/summary.html
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