Lois Lowry's The Giver has become a standard in middle school classrooms because it is a great introduction to dystopian fiction. It allows young readers to become acquainted with the genre before they move on to denser novels like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell's 1984. To prepare students for reading The Giver, you could give a brief introductory lecture about some elements of dystopian fiction, such as blind consent from all citizens, distrust of the outside world, and constant government surveillance of civilians.

Discuss the effects and motivations of Lowry's devised reality in which only one person—The Receiver of Memory—holds an entire society's emotional memories and human experiences. What perspective do readers gain from envisioning a society that operates without these key personal ties? How does this dystopia reflect our own society? Be sure emphasize this key point: A society without pain and suffering might sound ideal until you also consider living without love and happiness.

For many of your students, The Giver may be their introduction to common literary elements, including imagery, figurative language, and theme. Make sure to designate time for these crucial components to ensure that students do not overlook the rich qualities of Lowry's novel. Particularly noteworthy points of discussion include the symbolism behind the color red, overarching themes of memory, societal order, and coming of age, and the character growth of both Jonas and The Giver and how they serve each other.

Give this impressive tale a go in your classroom—you'll be glad you did!

Summary of The Giver

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1993
  • Length: 256 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 760
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6-8
  • Newbery Medal (1994); Regina Medal (1994); William Allen White Award (1996); Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Eleven-year-old Jonas is at the Ceremony of Twelve to receive his job assignment, a role he will hold for the rest of his life. In his community, "the Elders" control every aspect of life. They dictate who will marry whom, where children get to live, and what jobs people have; they eavesdrop on every household in order to make sure everyone is following the rules. Jonas's assignment is to replace The Receiver—a man who harbors all of society's recollections of happiness, love, pain, and death. By passing his knowledge on to Jonas, the Receiver of Memory becomes The Giver. As Jonas receives more memories from The Giver, he comes to question the community and the means by which the Elders maintain order. When he discovers their darkest secret, Jonas knows he has to escape, even though it might cost him his life.

Content Warning: This novel contains incidents of murder and assisted suicide.

What Your Students Will Love About The Giver

  • Experiencing new memories with Jonas
  • Debating the ethics of the dystopian society
  • Jonah's epic escape

Potential Students Struggles With The Giver

  • Shocking incidents of death, including assisted suicide and the inhumane euthanization of infants and the elderly
  • Some students might overlook implicit meanings (e.g., "releasing"= death).

Learning Objectives for The Giver

  • Identify common elements of dystopian fiction within the novel.
  • Discuss the ways in which Jonas's community deals with issues such as care of the elderly, sexuality, education, and suicide
  • Consider the sacrifices required for the community to achieve "Sameness."
  • Trace how Jonas changes throughout the novel, and consider how the novel can be categorized as a coming-of-age or loss-of-innocence story.
  • Identify euphemisms the community uses, and determine what they really mean.

Literary Elements in The Giver

  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Third-person limited narration

Major Themes in The Giver

Coming of Age/Loss of Innocence – Only after receiving The Giver's memories does Jonas come to understand the corruption in his community.

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Individual vs. Society – Jonas's newfound knowledge isolates him from the rest of society.

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Choices – Jonas's new memories allow him to call into question the Elders' methods of control; he learns that taking away people's choices will not create a happier humanity.

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Other Resources for The Giver