Lois Lowry was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1937. Lowry was an “Army brat” who moved around frequently as a child and young adult. She lived in Japan and many other countries. Eventually, Lowry decided to attend Brown University in the United States, and she became a writing major. However, she decided to leave college early in order to get married. The marriage produced four children, but Lowry and her husband eventually divorced. Her children became the main inspiration for Lowry’s creative work. After some time away, Lowry completed her college degree at the University of Maine. She earned a living as a housekeeper but kept writing. She enjoyed writing for young adults and often used her children as inspiration. Additionally, Lowry took portraits of children and wrote textbooks to supplement her income.
Lowry became a very prolific and accomplished writer. Her first novel, A Summer to Die, received the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award in the late 1970s. The novel focuses on a teenager’s relationship with her older sister, who is terminally ill. Although Lowry has noted that she does not like including autobiographical information in her novels, many readers speculate that the novel was inspired by the death of Lowry’s own sister, who died of cancer.
After A Summer to Die, Lowry wrote a number of other books that became popular in the young adult genre. Most notably, Lowry’s Anastasia series and Number the Starssecured Lowry’s standing as a popular and accomplished writer. Number the Starswon the Newbery Medal and the National Jewish Book Award in 1990. Later, The Giverwon the Newbery Medal in 1994. The Giver was penned after Lowry visited her elderly father in a nursing home. The visit inspired her to see that without memory, there is no pain. In The Giver, Lowry shows how a society free from memory can live in peace; however, without memory, the society will not have functional relationships or love.
In The Giver, Lowry at first presents readers with a utopian society that seems to have no problems or pressing concerns. The society does not have to deal with hunger, illness, war, pain, or conflict. Although this seems wonderful, beneath the surface, things are not what they seem. So that this perfection may be maintained, the residents of the community have no individuality. They must act in accordance with strict rules, and any individualistic desires or concerns must be suppressed. Members of the society seem to enjoy this complacent life, but readers get the sense that individualistic elements and a memory of the past are needed so that people can experience pleasure and freedom. However, as readers continue, they may get the sense that this is more of a dystopian society than utopian. Like 1984 by George Orwell,Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, content societies often have one or more flaws that prevent the individual from realizing his or her true potential. The message from the novels is very clear: They warn readers that they should be cautious that this doesn’t happen to their own societies or communities.
In many ways, The Giver echoes the society in which it was produced. Published in 1993, Lowry’s novel presents readers with many issues the United States grappled with in this time period. Readers will notice that the theme of Sameness reigns throughout Jonas’ community. In the early 1990s, the search for individuality took on new meaning when reproductive rights and the definition of family were being constantly redefined. Culturally, bands like Nirvana expressed the importance of individuality and the right for individuals to choose what they believed in and who they wanted to be.
Many issues also caused divisions in the political sphere. Pro-life and pro-choice debates were common between politicians and families alike, as were debates about assisted suicide and euthanasia. As seen in The Giver, the family unit in America was becoming redefined during this time period; single parenting became more common and socially acceptable, and often the common nuclear family was shattered. The early 1990s paved the way for many different types of parenting: gay parents, grandparents raising children, open adoption, and artificial insemination all became more popular and widespread. In The Giver, readers see Jonas grapple with similar issues. Though he has parents and a little sister, Jonas finds The Giver’s attention to him more familial and loving. Jonas sees The Giver as a grandparent, which is something that his community does not accept. As he spends more time with The Giver, Jonas begins to understand the importance of love in familial relationships; he also begins to see that although he does not have this relationship with his parents, this is something that he desires.
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