The Giver: Is It A Happy Ending?

The magic in Lois Lowry’s The Giver occurs in Chapter 19 as the main character, the soon-to-be twelve-year-old, Jonas, realizes that everything is not as it seems in his seemingly idyllic community.

Up until Chapter 19, my l’il dude had been feeling really good about the community in which the characters lived their daily lives. He believed everyone lived in total equity. He loved how everything was shared communally, how everything was controlled by “the Elders,” right down to the vocations people were given, the people they were matched up to marry, and the children they received to raise. I think he was ready to up and move there.

Monkey didn’t seem to catch that individual identity had gone the way of 8-track cassette tapes, that no one had any emotions at all, and everyone was essentially just like everyone else.

In Chapter 19, Jonas makes a major discovery. The process of “release,” which is mentioned throughout the book, is nothing more than lethal injection. Needless to say, Jonas is horrified as he watches a video of his own father, a caregiver, performing the procedure on an otherwise healthy infant.

Monkey’s teacher asked the students to please keep the pace with fellow classmates for this book and asked them not to read ahead – something that was exceedingly difficult for my voracious reader.

I promised him there was a reason.

And then one day from the couch, I heard Monkey’s voice “Holy. Guacamole.”

I knew he had reached Chapter 19.

Sitting up, Monkey looked at me. “So…so…so… so… so if they kill people there must be other things that they do that don’t discuss, like who removes the bodies and what do they do with them? There must be tons of secret stuff that goes on.” He paused for a moment, “There are always helicopters flying overhead. I never thought about it. But maybe they are more about surveillance than transportation.”

He was putting things together, making connections. The synapses were firing.

“This book is creeping me out!” he exclaimed and then disappeared behind the couch again to continue reading.

A few nights after Monkey had finished reading The Giver, my son announced, at dinner, there had been a very lively discussion about the end of the book. Apparently, Mrs. English Teacher had asked her students the penultimate question: Do you think The Giver has a happy ending?

Best. Question. Ever.

Monkey reported that some of his peers thought the book had a very happy ending, that Jonas had successfully escaped from his community on his bicycle with Gabriel, a sick infant that his family had been caring for.  They justified their answers by saying they knew it was a happy ending because at the very end, Jonas was on a sled with Gabriel, and they were preparing to slide down into a cozy looking village where there were lights. Monkey said those students felt confident that Jonas and the baby were going to be able to survive in this new community called Elsewhere.

I held my breath.

Because that interpretation is soooooo not it.

Nervously, I asked my son if he agreed that The Giver had ended happily.

Monkey chewed his chicken about fifty times, then swallowed. Finally, he shook his head. “Not at all,” he said, adding that he thought that it was pretty much impossible for it to be a happy ending given that the vision Jonas had of his idyllic community was way too similar to a vision that the Giver had shown Jonas earlier in the book.

Monkey said, “Jonas was probably hallucinating and kinda holding onto one last bit of hope before he and the baby froze to death.”

Wow, if my Monkey was gruesome in his analysis, I didn’t really care.

He was spot on.

I asked my son if he had spoken up and stated his alternate interpretation of the ending and he said that he had. He said other students agreed with him, but a lot of people argued that Jonas had made it out and that he and the baby were going to be fine.

“Some people can’t face the truth,” said Monkey, sounding way too mature making me want him to go upstairs and re-read every book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Whether or not all the kids agreed about the ending was not the issue for me. I was just happy that my son had turned the corner and gotten from the novel what I believe readers are supposed to get, the concept of dystopia. From the way he explained it, Monkey’s teacher facilitated an amazing discussion about culture and government, people and lies and truth, when people need to know things and when it might be in their best interest not to know things. I was so grateful that this discussion took place in a classroom with a responsible teacher there to facilitate things.

And while every teacher wants her students to have that epiphany about the literature, the reality is that folks will always have different interpretations of the ending of certain books and, frankly, that’s what makes those books delicious. In The Giver, one’s understanding is truly based on his intellectual and emotional willingness to accept that things are not always what they seem.

What makes The Giver a classic is that it is often the first piece of real literature that students read which allows them to look critically at our own government – which can be scary for kids. It forces them to ask uncomfortable questions: Has there ever been a time when our government has knowingly lied to us? Are there justifiable reasons for our leaders to withhold the whole truth?

As I washed the post-dinner dishes that night, I was happy that Monkey’s class had a great discussion and, from the way it was reported to me, none of the students were told how to think or what the “right answer” was. They were, instead, instructed to look to the literature to find the answers and then left to squirm in their own uncertainty, which can be a very good thing.

What’s got you squirming?

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36 responses to “The Giver: Is It A Happy Ending?

  1. I’ve never read “The Giver”, but my youngest read Lowry’s “Number the Stars” in her Grade 6 class, and liked it enough to ask me to order her a copy. I’ll have to ask her about this other one…

    Lots of things make me squirm, but mostly it’s due to pants that are too tight…LOL!

    Wendy

  2. Dystopian lit is one of my favourite genres. And there’s a lot of good YA that’s dystopian too.

    I love this. Love how M is piecing it all together. Making meaning, one chapter at a time, or one word at a time.

  3. What I love about this book is that it gives readers the freedom to fashion their own ending, a freedom no one in the community has.

    But then Lowry pissed me off by telling us what happens….in another book. Boo!

    And, when she was here two years ago and I asked her why she had a really crappy reason. Boo!. But, I do still love The Giver.

    Gathering Blue has a similar idea but is quite different in content. I recommend that one too!

    • Holly:

      Did Lowry stick to this: http://www.nycsd.k12.pa.us/tchr/webquests/giver/default.html#message%20from%20the%20author

      It is my understanding that Lowry didn’t want readers to think Jonas and Gabriel die at the end of the novel because she was concerned that schools would pull her book, potentially not allow educators to teach the material any more. Which, of course, would mean no more money from the book, which has become a staple of middle school curricula across the country.

      I know that The Giver has been “challenged” every year since it came out.

      I didn’t know that Lowry ever “officially” made a statement about what happened to Jonas and Gabriel in another book! Tell us! Tell us!

      • Lowry has continued to say that she was surprised so many people thought he died because in her mind that is not what happened. What pisses me off is that after she said this, she wrote a great book called Gathering Blue which addressed some of the same issues as the Giver about freedom and individuality.

        Spoilers…….Spoilers……Spoilers……Spoilers……

        At the end of that book Kira, the main character, decides to stay in her community to make it better, but her friend, Matt, decides to leave to go to another community where there is another person there with light blue eyes like Kira’s. It seems to imply that it’s Jonas but only if you know his story. It could just as easily be not him at that that point.

        The last book, the Messenger, it pains me to say this because I love Lowry, was not good. I’ve only read it once because it was that bad, so I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details, but it is clear that Jonas and Gabe are very much alive in the community they found at the end of The Giver. The sled is given a place of honor in their museum.

        The three books are marketed as a trilogy with “a companion to” on the covers of the books.

        When I asked Lowry why she decided to do it given that she had said before she wanted people to create their own ending, she said that she eventually did it because her “fans really wanted to know”. Honestly (again, remember I LOVE her), I wanted to dump her off on the corner, instead of at her hotel.

      • Glurg, boo with a side order of hiss!

        Here is an icon that I rarely use.😦

        I think I might not tell Monkey about The Messenger.

  4. blackwatertown

    Very good. I think The Giver is something we should have in our house.

    Currently reading some dystopian lit. Leanne- The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist – good so far.

    • I’ve read so much dystopian literature, I’m feeling kind of dysfunctional: The Handmaid’s Tale, Woman on The Edge of Time, Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Pendragon Series. I could go on and on.

      And my book club wonders why I’ve got them reading Jennifer Lancaster books. I’m thinking for my next pick I may assign them Vanna Speaks (the autobiography by Vanna White, you know – the chick who used to turn the consonants and the vowels on Wheel of Fortune? Now she is completely obsolete, but they keep her on so she can look pretty in her fancy dresses).😉

  5. I’m impressed by Monkey’s thought-process. Amazing.

    I tend to WANT to think endings are happy. I am a cock-eyed optimist (or whatever) even when all evidence points to the contrary.

    I want to say, “But…but….MAYBE it turned out okay.”

    It doesn’t mean I don’t know that it usually doesn’t. Turn out okay, I mean.

    But kudos to this teacher for facilitating such a discussion.

    I remember reading “The Road” for my book club and sobbing at the ending. When our group discussed the family taking in the boy, one of our members said, “I don’t think they were the good guys…”

    Gulp.

    It hadn’t even occurred to me that this family would be bad, too.

    Good for Monkey for looking deeply, searching below the surface for other interpretations.

    And good for you, Mama, for talking it through with him. Awesomeness all around…

    • I read The Life of Pi not too long ago.

      And I totally didn’t get it.

      I won’t tell you what “it” is.

      But let’s just say, I thought the ending was completely different than what it was.

      It was so embarrassing.

      I wanted happiness.

      Monkey has never been afraid to go deep.

      He is a reality type of guy. He’s the one who told me (in his gentle way) that I did not actually have 800 “friends” on Facebook. He even made “air apostrophes” when he said “friends” to further illustrate his point.

      So…

      No illusions allowed here, I guess.

      • I actually had to start The Life of Pi twice before I could get into it. I thought it got better as it went along. I loved the ending, but I could not rationalize a “happy ending”. Plus, I kind of liked the metaphors. I actually read books looking for metaphors and foreshadowing. Is that what happens to English majors? Either that or we end up on Avenue Q!

  6. We get the lessons over half dozen decades. Hopefully more. It’s pretty much Chapter 19 for all and the ending is seldom happy, joyous and free. Unfortunately it is flavored (tainted) by the unfortunate, the distasteful and the unpleasant. So the end is seldom measured in terms of good or bad. Its that the end is cumulative and the conclusion is one of acceptance that the end contains elements of all that has transpired. Would appreciate Monkey’s feed back on this interpretation.

  7. I have not read The Giver, but from your description it kind of reminds me of The Stepford Wives (the original, not the campy remake), but on a larger scale. Creepy.

  8. I never read The Giver but I have my students read Anthem by Ayn Rand. Some of them recognize the similarities between the two books, and some of them may not but they still get the point of the story. Unfortunately, just as many don’t get it.

    The book of this genre that horrified me the most was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

  9. When reading books like The Giver, where the bad news is not spelled out, I choose to assign a happy ending in my mind.

    Fiction is fiction. There’s enough unhappiness in real life. I want my characters to live “happily ever after.” But I’d be glad that my kid was snowed . . . and saw reality as it is. 😀

  10. Singularity by Barry Sleator is one of the best and most original YA book’s I have read . It is a bildungsroman set in a black hole. Great story.

  11. Isn’t it exciting and amazing to watch our own children experience literature? With this book, my child watched me experience it for the first time. I read The Giver at my youngest daughter’s suggestion. The evening I was reading it, my daughter kept peeking her head into my room to ask me what chapter I was on. When she looked in and saw me crying, she knew I had reached chapter 19.
    Your monkey is very bright! With you as his mom, I don’t see how he could be anything but insightful! Great post!

    • Hi Sprinkles!

      I love that you read the book at the suggestion of your daughter. How validating for her! She must have felt like me, waiting and watching for you to get to the moment where “it” happens.

      Sounds like we both have smart l’il Monkeys!😉

  12. Hi, Renee,
    My girlfriend just presented “The Giver” in her classroom, too. Am I the only one that did not like this book? I did not like that the boy kept taking and taking and taking until every thing was gone…the branches, leaves, trunk…roots.

    Did I miss something?

    Anyhow, one of my fave Newberry Winners of all time was “The Absolute True Journal of a Part Time Indian”
    have you read it yet?
    Superbly Fabulous. xxx

  13. Lowry first got to me with “The Lottery”. From that book I fell in love with dystopian literature. I’ve plowed through countless books all featuring dystopian societies. “Hunger Games”, “1984”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “A Brave New World”, “The Giver”, etc I’ve read and loved them all. Usually there is a prevailing sense of victory at the end of these types of novels. I think that’s why we like them. The exception is “The Giver”, of course. My assessment of the end was similar to Monkey’s. I’m really hoping that Thing One reads it next year in 6th grade. I can’t wait to have this discussion with her.

    • Hi BTB:

      The short story “The Lottery” was actually written by Shirley Jackson, who lived in my fair city of Rochester, New York for a time. She attended Brighton High School, the school in which I taught for a few years before Monkey was born, and teachers sometimes took students to see the house in which Jackson lived, which is just a short walk from the school. Cool, huh?

      Even if The Giver isn’t on the curriculum in Thing One’s school, it would make a great read for you to tackle together.

      And by that I mean, she can read and then you can tackle her.😉

      Seriously, it is a fantastic book. I know it falls under the heading of YA (Young Adult) Literature, but it is beautifully crafted and sophisticated enough so even adult readers enjoy it.

      • Wow! I didn’t realize that Shirley Jackson lived in Rochester. They never mentioned that in the F-M public school system. I do remember reading the story, though. That was one of the few short stories I liked…that and everything by O Henry. ….now picturing Monkey acting out Ransom of Red Chief. 😉

      • OOPS! How could I forget that Jackson wrote “The Lottery”? That’s what you get for not re-reading things. It’s been 17 years since I read “The Lottery”, so I’m a bit rusty.

        I know she has a copy. She may have started to read it, yet did not finish it. I will of course make sure she does finish it so I can put the screws to her and actually get her to think about something.

      • Larisa:
        Yup. The “Shirlstress” lived in Rochester and graduated from BHS. It’s a fact.

        And BTB, it’s easy to forget who wrote what I can almost never remember the title of anything that anyone has written – well except Skakespeare. I can remember The Bard’s stuff well enough.😉

  14. Pingback: Making the Days Count » Blog Archive » Being thankful, the Liebster Award

  15. Renee – I could’ve sworn I already commented – I can see I back linked this to a post on MtDC. I hope this fins you well, I sure miss you’re writing and I’m sure you miss writing as well. I am reading and sharing this with my classes today as we have finished reading The Giver and as always the studetns are eager to learn what is next. They’re still 7th graders struggling with the deeper meaning – take care. Clay

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