Individualism And Transcendentalism In The Novel The Giver By Lois Lowry

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The Giver by Lois Lowry expressed ideas and thoughts of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I will analyze how the main character Jonas goes through a journey of individualism and self-expression as the novel progresses and how it relates to Emerson and Thoreau. Jonas is able to grow throughout the book due to the internal and external conflicts he endures. My interest in this theme of individualism and the realization of it in a small society intrigues me because I am in a time in my life where I am getting a sense of individualism. I have had some experience with the topic of individualism and transcendentalism due to the reading responses we’ve done in class. In class, we have talked about how society can spoil an individual’s identity. I would like to find a connection between all of the sources, and the novel in the way that Jonas evolves to find the importance of individualism and Transcendentalism.

Transcendentalism is the idea that institutions corrupt an individual and that people tend to be their best selves when they are independent and self-reliant. The focus of an individual should be more nature and their personal growth. According to Studies in New England Transcendentalism “Nature is the embodiment of spirit in the world of sense—it is a great picture the be appreciated” and this idea is greatly touched upon by Henry David Thoreau throughout his life (4-5). He believed so much in this philosophy that he went to live in the wilderness to be minimalistic. Being a naturalist and minimalist for two months allowed him to connect with his divine and most in tune self. In Thoreau’s essay Walden he expresses the importance of nature and how individuals become absent-minded when it comes to the individuals around us. As Thoreau says, “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” he is saying that individuals are so occupied with doubts that the actual experience of life is neglected (Thoreau 316). In modern society, humans are so focused on their own life and wrapped up in their own issues they forget the greatest importance of being the divine-human in society. In David Thoreau’s Walden he talks about how humans tend to focus on their own personal lives without any regard to other people. In Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance he expresses the importance of finding one’s identity. The basis of Emerson’s essay is that he wants readers to stray away from societal expectations. He wants them to follow their own specific likings. Once readers find their identity Emerson wants them to fully accept their identity. Emerson and Thoreau want individuals to use the beauty and truth of the natural world to grow into people that have reached their highest potential. According to the previous book Studies in New England Transcendentalism “the individual soul comes in contact with and appropriates to itself the spirit of God” (5). The Giver will touch on how the main character Jonas continues to find himself as he travels the natural lands after escaping his society. In the eyes of Emerson and Thoreau, Jonas will reach his peak with a spirit closer to “God”. When transcendentalists mention a relationship with God, it is because they believe that the private knowledge of God embraces individualism. Having a closer relationship with God promotes the focus of nature and opposing materialistic tendencies.

It is important to maintain a sense of self and individuality to avoid groupthink. According to Individualism & Collectivism by Harry C. Triandis, “the individual can decide how to behave without following the norms of his/her in-group” and that is the idea of individuality (20-21). Individualism is the idea that it is very important to take care of yourself. It is the belief and practice that one person is unique and self-reliant. Society tends to have its ideas on what is good and proper which halts people’s creativity. If everyone in life had the same relations with everyone there would be a very boring society. This thought is proven in The Giver where society was very bland due to the fact that everyone went through life just like everyone else in the community. The thought of transcendentalism is that in order to really live life, an individual must experience pain and joy. They must be given access to make choices. If these qualities of life are withheld, like in The Giver, each person is just a robot. The people of the society in the giver do not really get to experience pain or joy. One of the joys of life that the parents to not get to experience is the birth of a child, specifically their own children. The parents are given children that have reached the age of one so they do have kids. But do not actually get to grow and bond with their own baby for the nine months of gestation. That type of joy should be allowed but unfortunately it is stripped from them in the novel. Another thing they are stripped from is the pain of losing a loved one. In the book no one understands that concept of the “release”, therefore, they do not understand that it is loss. The controllers on the community claim that they do not want anyone to suffer but losing someone opens people up for growth. With the community under strict control no one actually gets to grow emotionally, or spiritually.

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Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver starts off with the idea that their society is a utopia but it turns out that the community is actually a dystopia as the story progresses. In the community everyone is equal, and there is no uniqueness. According to The Role of the Individual within Society: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley written by Adam Umak and Danielle Tarner “Themes such as the power of knowledge, conformity, censorship, governmental control, and responsibility for self is hindered” in the novel. One way that society hindered individually from the very beginning was the age milestones for all of the kids at once. At age one babies get assigned to their homes, which means parents don’t even get a chance to raise their own children. When the kids are four years of age, they get jackets that button in the back to teach them interdependence. It is not a bad idea to teach interdependence but kids develop in different stages of life, giving everyone that milestone at the same time limits individual development. At age seven, they get their jackets that button in the front after they gain interdependence. Children at the age of nine get bikes, which represent maturity and structured independence. The bike allows the children to move through the community on their own but it is false independence because there are cameras watching their every move. In the twelfth year, the kids are given their assignment in the society. That impedes their self-identity because they are given a job at the age of twelve wherein other societies people do not get careers until their twenties. The kids don’t get a chance to actually experience teen years because they receive a career so young. They don’t even get to decide what they want to do when they get older limiting choices they get to make. The control of those age stages are perfect examples of governmental control and conformity because the government is controlling the growth of kids when they are individual milestones. By grouping the milestones of every kid it promotes conformity although it is not good. Once the society cannot control them as kids, that is when the cameras that are all around the community become of importance. The cameras are live and auditory features. When someone does something wrong like touching, for example, the camera tells them that it is against the rules to touch and keeps repeating it until they stop touching. That hinders a sense of responsibility because it is a constant reminder that it is against the rules. Gaining responsibility is about having rules and having to remember them on your own to create responsibility. The society is counterproductive because it wants so much control that it does not allow people to gain true responsibility. According to The Role of the Individual within Society: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley written by Adam Umak and Danielle Tarner “controlled and predictable society is synthetic” which is the truth because the founders of the community created their own little protective world.

When Jonas hits the tender age of twelve he is assigned as the receiver of memory. In the novel, Jonas manages to break the control of the society with the help of a wise old man called “The Giver”. He is able to use his conflicts to develop human emotions and save the community. Jonas goes through a series of internal conflict throughout the novel. One of the issues he faces it when he realizes how sheltered he is and narrow-minded his society is. Jonas has to decide if he is going to stay in a closed-off society or leave the community he has always known. In the novel Jonas is stuck in a community where there is no color resulting in a blandness. According to an article “The Philosophical and Ethical Significance of Color in Lois Lowry's The Giver” by Han, and Lee argue that the community's emphasis on Sameness leads to colorblindness. As Jonas gets more skills he sees the world in color for the first time. Since Jonas cannot see color it didn’t allow the community to experience racism. Although there can be bigger issues when it comes to seeing color people's race it diminishes individuality. The colorblindness is a symbol of the community’s overprotection of the families. Jonas’s community does not appreciate individuals but prefers everyone to function as a single unit. Jonas later realizes that his society reduces them from human beings to subjects decreasing individuality. As Jonas is able to see more color it symbolizes the evolution of his self-expression. According to the article, “The Philosophical and Ethical Significance of Color in Lois Lowry's The Giver” by Han, and Lee “our sense experience is always filtered through the inner structures of our mental faculties, without which we cannot make sense of the world”. Their thoughts explain that things cannot be grasped without the basics of things. Jonas was never going to be able to see color because the concept of color was never meant to be understood in the society. The way the society used censorship, it allowed people to still live in their sheltered society but if they were to escape and enter into the real world, they would not survive. The knowledge that their citizens were allowed to know was just enough to succeed in their world but not enough for them to survive in other societies.

The main character of the novel, Jonas, does not only deal with internal struggles but with external struggles as well. He has issues with man and nature throughout the book. In the beginning “The Giver” transfers positive memories to Jonas so he would not get overwhelmed. Jonas managed to progress very fast resulting in him advancing into new memories. “The Giver” shoes Jonas the true meaning of “Being Released”. In his society, they make being released sound like it was a good thing but when Jonas received the memory, he realized it is murder. He realized that when his father has to release babies if they do not meet certain requirements, that he is, in fact, killing babies. Jonas acquires animosity towards his father because he doesn’t understand how his father could do things like that. Later on in the story, the release of a special baby named Gabriel puts Jonas in a very uncomfortable situation but the higher powers and the people that work for them. As Jonas goes back and forth with himself on if he should leave his controlling society. He knows that the only way to stop his community from this cycle if sameness it to leave. Unfortunately, he knows that he has to leave with baby Gabriel because he is a special one like himself. If Jonas were to leave the community and break the outer layer of protection, the society would automatically feel the happiness and sad things of the world. According to the article “A Return to Normal: Lois Lowry’s The Giver” the ending of the novel would be Jonas returning his society to normal. As Jonas’s society is blocking everyone in the community from those experiences, there are other societies that are participating in life the normal way. Breaking the boundaries would return their society to the way life was meant to be lived. So, as Jonas decided to escape with Gabriel, he is able to discover a world where they can decide their own fates and live as free beings.

The novel written by Lois Lowry, The Giver is connected with the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Throughout this paper, I have been analyzing the ideologies while trying to understand the conflict the main character Jonas faces. Those conflicts allowed Jonas to realize the importance of individualism. As the book progressed he adapted the thought process of transcendentalism. As it neared the ending of the book where Jonas decides to flee his society, it may have seemed very radical to the leaders of his society but in reality he is just searching for his ability to make choices since it was ripped from him. The society gave an impression that everyone in the community has to be perfect but according to an article “A Return to Normal: Lois Lowry’s The Giver” “Adolescence, as currently constructed, serves as a transition period, a time of change, adjustment, discontent, and rebellion”. Although the adolescent years may be challenging, it better helps them develop into better-prepared adults. The way the kids are structured to grow up they almost don’t have adolescent years because they go straight into adulthood with careers. Overall, the main result from this analysis is that there we clear relationships between the thoughts of Transcendentalism and Individualism and the growth of the main character Jonas from the known novel The Giver. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed their concerns about society and how controlling it was and it was exemplified in the novel, where the controllers of the society rules everything. No one was allowed to stray from the ideas of the society or it was considered unruly resulting in a “release”. With some thought, the novel The Giver related to Emerson and Thoreau on an idealistic level.

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Individualism And Transcendentalism In The Novel The Giver By Lois Lowry. (2021, August 06). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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