The Giver Through Post-Colonial Lens

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The understanding of a society’s cultural identity or one’s social difference is made possible by Post-Colonial criticism. Post-Colonial criticism, according to author Peter Barry, is “the representation of other cultures in literature as a way of achieving this end” as “they foreground questions of cultural difference and diversity and examine their treatment in relevant literary works” (Barry 199). This lens allows the reader to find a text’s cultural conflict by analyzing a character’s emotions and actions. Lois Lowry’s The Giver establishes the scenario of a utopian society, highlighting all of its advantages and drawbacks. When a reader applies a Post-Colonial lens to The Giver, they will realize the distinction between Jonas’s society and the societies of the outside world. These differences can be seen in the distinction between the East and the West. Jonas’s home community is the West being uniform and fearful, eliminating all emotions and pain. On the contrary, The Giver and the outside world represent the East being savage, allowing the possession of knowledge and freedom. When digging deeper into the author’s choices, the reader will also realize that Lowry’s past life influenced some of the book’s events.

Lowry’s The Giver starts with the main character Jonas, describing the children's play and the curfew carried out by the Elders. At home, Jonas and his family describe their day using very vague descriptions to keep clarity and Sameness. Days after, there is a city ceremony where the children are given future jobs. Jonas is selected as the Receiver of Memory, the most prestigious job of them all. Jonas then starts his training receiving memories from the past and meeting The Giver. After many weeks of training, Jonas is obligated to watch a release where he sees his dad kill one twin while the other is sent for adoption. Jonas becomes furious, as he can not bear to live in his home community. The strange social norms of Joans’s town causes him to take his brother Gabriel and later run away from home. Gabriel and Jonas, while running, survey many mountains and weather as they find a house of singing people.

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The West is a society that has a fear of the unknown, relying on the guidance of religion and equality to shelter society. In short, a western society is strict and homogeneous, fearful of change. Throughout Lowry’s novel The Giver, Jonas’s home community separates itself from the rest of the known world to eliminate pain. Just as Stoker’s Van Helsing fights Dracula to preserve Britain’s clarity, the community follows and acts on certain criteria to preserve Sameness. One of the rules set in place to preserve Sameness in Jonas’s community is the precision of language. When Jonas is taken by his parents for a private conversation, his parents say, “the reason for precision of language was to ensure that unintentional lies were never uttered” (Lowry 70). This instance proves that Jonas lives on the western side of a colonial world as they cut down the essence of free speech. Jonas’s society uses the precision of language to eliminate emotional pain and keep their society out of the “evil” East. I found this instance to be a mere reflection of our world today, as in certain places or times, we are prohibited from saying several words or phrases. Just as our society has bad words, Jonas’s district has the precision of language to promote further uniformity. This uniformity comes from the fear and horror caused by the community’s unknown future.

Another instance in which Post-Colonialism illustrates Jonas’s city as traditionally Western is when race is eliminated. When transferring memories of the past to Jonas, The Giver exclaims, “Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back. We relinquished color” (Lowry 95). The Elders’ decision to eliminate race represents the motives of the West as they want to promote equality instead of violence. Instead of accepting one’s differences, an interpretation from the Post-Colonial lens suggests that people are afraid of moral and ethical differences. In theory, the homogenous society results in less conflict. Later in Jonas’s training, The Giver discusses the essence of choices as he states, “We don’t dare to let people make choices of their own” (Lowry 98). This scene depicts Jonas’s district as the West as the Elders create a line between being free and being safe. I feel that this passage illuminates the fact that the Elders are fearful as freedom creates unwanted uncertainty. This unwanted uncertainty comes from the fact that the people make good and bad choices. The Elders, in all their power, create no choice to further tranquility. As a result, the communities represent the West as they are afraid of repeating mistakes from the past.

The East is a mysterious society as it seeks knowledge and freedom while forcing its beliefs towards others, being savage or evil. Jonas and The Giver stand out to me as savage or ruinous as they discuss very grievous memories. As Jonas walks into The Giver’s household one day, The Giver whimpers: “Please,’ he gasped, ‘take some of the pain”(Lowry 118). Moreover, The Giver becomes a symbol of the East as he suffers from agony and pain from his loneliness, making him mysterious and lonely. This due to the fact that he is bearing the weight of all the pain for his society. These qualities transform individuals into savages as they feel the need to share knowledge with others, which is deemed minacious by many Elders. As The Giver transfers dramatic and harrowing recollections, Jonas becomes mysterious and cruel from the incoming distress. Jonas, through this lens, turns from a proper man of the West to a mysterious man of the East as he asks questions and requests knowledge. The Giver, in this instance, becomes savage as he inflicts pain to other people, which the Elders deem as uncivilized and immoral. Since the Elders fear these qualities, my impression is that the outside world is the East, for the Elders mention nothing outside the world.

The ideology of the East also revolves around the essence of colonization. According to Post-Colonial studies at Emory University, Post-Colonialism focuses on “the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period” (Bahri 1996). When examining the text, I feel that Jonas is a colonizer, for he tries to deliver memories to the rest of his town. His actions seem almost desperate as he tries to convey the phenomenon of color to his friend, “He put his hand on Asher’s shoulders, and concentrated on the red of the petals, trying to hold it as long as he could, and trying at the same time to transmit the awareness of red to his friend” (Lowry 99). Jonas does this as he is taken over by the power and temptation of the outside world, pursuing his freedom and emotions towards others. Jonas ultimately wants the people of his community to feel what he feels so that he may transform his community into one that is innovative and powerful. As I read this passage, I began to perceive the East as a powerhouse wanting to distribute its ideas, good or bad. Jonas and The Giver represent the East, as both characters, under this lens, are powerful enforcers.

When analyzing the text, I felt that the conflicts and themes of the novel came from Lowry’s past and not from her full imagination. Lowry was born in Hawaii. She then moved to Tokyo because of her father’s work. The society she lived in was very “Americanized,” as it separated her from the troubles and crimes of the Tokyo streets. I have a feeling that her childhood events, different from those of an American child, moved her to incorporate the essence of Sameness and security in Jonas’s home community. The mere representation of “fear” and the “unknown” reflects Lowry’s childhood in the form of The Giver and the outside world. These instances, as a result, are significant to Lowry’s childhood and her sense of self as she used them to form her novel. Lowry’s life experiences build the novel as if The Giver is an insight into her childhood reminiscences.

When using a Post-Colonial lens on The Giver, one of the many viewpoints regarding conflict becomes relevant. Post-Colonialism conveys the idea of the East and the West, revealing a disrupted society. Jonas, The Giver, and the outside world represent the East because of their interaction with knowledge and freedom; while the West is Jonas’s hometown despising differences and knowledge in fear that their society will have conflict. The Post-Colonial lens creates multiple viewpoints of one text while illuminating the conflicts and struggles of our world, in the form of literature. As more people use the social and political insight of Post-Colonialism, the more they will understand the novel’s message.

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The Giver Through Post-Colonial Lens. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
“The Giver Through Post-Colonial Lens.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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The Giver Through Post-Colonial Lens [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 Jul 14]. Available from:

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