The Giver is set in a future society that appears to be utopian at first glance. Everyone is polite and peaceful. Families sit down to dinner together every night to discuss their days. There are no arguments, no wars; there is no jealousy or competition. Everything seems too good to be true…and it is.
In order to get the peace and tranquility that they have, they created sameness. “If we were different, we could be jealous…angry…[etc.]. We need sameness.” In order to achieve sameness, citizens are injected with a serum that takes away their memories, their experience of color and taste and love and feelings of any depth. They have peace, but it is a shallow peace forged not through the resolution of conflict and depth of love and caring, but through absence of feeling, passion and thought.
With the removal of emotion and memories, people are less. They are more easily manipulated and controlled. This is how peace is maintained, by removing choice from the masses. As the Chief Elder explains, “People are weak. People are selfish. When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong. Every. Single. Time.” So the powers that be decided to remove that freedom to choose.
Another part of maintaining sameness is to eliminate all who are not the same. This includes the old, any babies who do not mature at the same rate as the others, and any citizens who don’t conform to standards and/or obey the rules. When someone is deemed outside the realm of sameness, they are “released to elsewhere”. They are released in a very nice ceremony, almost like a graduation, only a graduation to the unknown… the “elsewhere”.
Citizens believe this is a good and kind thing. Their medication dulls their senses so that they readily accept what they are told—and they are told that this is a good thing. What they don’t realize is that it is nothing short of murder. All of society’s unwanted are killed because they are no longer convenient, and Jonas and The Giver, the keepers of memories, are the only ones who know it. When Jonas first realizes the truth, he says, “They hadn’t eliminated murder, they’d brought it home. They just called it by another name.”
So what does The Giver have to do with us? I hear people all the time asking why God would give us free will. The Chief Elder may have been a little dramatic, but she’s not far off. People may not always choose wrong, but they often do. Wouldn’t the world be a better place without murder and theft and wars and genocide, etc.? Of course it would. It was never God’s intent for sin to enter into the world. But it was God’s intent for us to live fully and richly, and if we were to love him fully, we had to be free to choose.
You can see it in The Giver, when given the choice between the life of peace and sameness Jonas had known, and a life of feelings and awareness—he chose awareness, as did Fiona and the Giver. They all chose the freedom to choose, even though they knew full well that with that would come the pain of war, of suffering, of wrong choices, etc. Jonas chose the highs and the lows over the neutral ground that was devoid of either. God gave us that same choice.
In moments of pain we may wish we didn’t have to hurt, but we don’t realize how shallow life would have been without the freedom we have. God didn’t want puppets and robots, he wanted sons and daughters. He didn’t want servants, he wanted lovers. For that we had to be free to choose and/or to reject Him.
Yes, there is great pain in our world, but there is also great joy.
Our world has free choice, so in that we are not much like the world presented in The Giver. Now some countries certainly don’t have the freedom of choice that we do in America, and you can see that that doesn’t exactly bring an increase of peace, even though it may have promised to do so at one point in time. But even in countries that aren’t free, we are still free as people to think for ourselves and to choose whom we shall follow (even though that freedom to choose may carry consequences with it).
The one thing that is very similar between our world and that in The Giver is the manipulation of semantics to change our perception of things. This is one of the enemies greatest tools to numb our senses and dull our awareness of things. No one in The Giver questioned the ceremony of release—they accepted it was a good thing. It was a ceremony, a celebration, a good thing…and it celebrated release—which holds a positive idea of being freed and let go for something meaningful, better even. They were told people went to the “elsewhere”—not to nowhere, or death, but to “elsewhere”. Technically that is correct, it was somewhere else, but it was intentionally misleading.
This idea of managing public relations through semantics is nothing new to us. We have people whose whole professions are centered around “spin”, around making negative or questionable things seem positive, or at least neutral. Corporations “rebrand” themselves to change their image, without changing their products or content. We sterilize things by putting politically correct terms on them. Our whole world understands the importance of semantics. It’s a matter of advertising, selling whatever it is you want to sell by putting it in the proper light.
This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes we need to rebrand because things have gone off-track, or we realize the organization has changed and its’ face, its’ branding needs to be updated to reflect that. Sometimes we update our image so that we can reach more people. Sometimes a change in semantics is good, right and honest. But it’s not always the case.
Often we change semantics so that we can make something evil sound good, or at least neutral. We change the focus of the argument so that people get caught up on side issues. Our semantics are often nothing more than a magician’s slight of hand, distracting us from the real problem. When Jonas realized that the ceremony of release was nothing less than murder, he was moved to action. He had to stop the murder, to fight back, and to try to awaken others. He couldn’t let it go on.
This isn’t a new thing, evidence of modern times. In fact, it has been going on a long time. The prophet Isaiah even spoke of it. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” It’s an age old tactic of the enemy—you can see him playing the semantics game with Eve in the Garden. It’s one of his number one tricks.
We may not be taking serum that dulls our senses and removes our memories, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still vulnerable to the dangers of tricky semantics in our world. Be aware of the enemy who wants to hide the truth so that he can work his evil and have us call it good.
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever wondered why God allowed us to have free choice, knowing it would allow so much pain and suffering into the world?
- Did watching The Giver make you think differently about free will?
- If you were Jonas, do you think you would want the peace he had known, or would you take both the good and the bad of all the memories?
- How did you feel about the way they used language in The Giver?
- What are some examples of people using semantics to cover up bad things in our world?
- Are you ever tempted to put a spin on something, change the way you talk about it, to hide what it really is?
- What do you think the Bible means when it says, “Woeto those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter”?
- Can you think of anything in our world that you think people would feel differently about if only people called it by its real, honest name?
 Isaiah 5:20