The Cost of Security
In a country where many are free to learn what they please, express themselves and feel a vast range of emotions, it is an outlandish thought to have these simple freedoms restricted or even relinquished. Lois Lowry’s The Giver follows Jonas, a boy who begins to question his perfect society devoid of any troubles when he receives memories of the past as part of his job Receiver of Memory. The community gives up the freedom of its people in favor of security, which results in ignorance of the past, and an inability to perceive the future. Relinquishing freedom makes emotion non-existent. It raises the question; is it truly worth erasing the freedom to learn, to experience the world, and to feel emotions in favor of security?
The government of Jonas’ community greatly restricts the range of knowledge that can be acquired within the education system; here, the education of young people revolves around giving up their own individuality in order to retain Sameness and to keep order within the community. Because of their Sameness-centered education, no one learns of the past and no one can think beyond the set parameters of the community. This indoctrination makes sure that everyone has a place in society, and it also makes sure that no individual is capable of disrupting the order with his/her own thoughts or concepts that conflict with Sameness. Citizens are so ignorant of any other method of thought, that even Jonas does not realize how ignorant he is until he learns of family and love in a memory of Christmas. Jonas states, “I just didn’t realize there was any other way until I received that memory” (157). He did not know that there was any other way to live their lives, and he did not even know what Christmas was or what love was prior to receiving that memory, which just goes to show how limiting their memories are. Because of this security, no one can be free inside his or her mind. How does one perceive the world on a physical level? The answer is with their senses and their thoughts. How can one perceive if both their thoughts and senses are incapacitated? It is a trick question; it is not a person who can perceive, but, rather, it is the illusion of perception.
In other cases, the community in The Giver pushes back against basic facts of life that most free societies never question. No one in Jonas’ community can see color or hear music, which seems to be harmless enough. Color is an expected amenity in a typical person’s life, but in such a controlled environment, it can be overlooked, and music can be seen as a distraction from an orderly lifestyle. However, it goes a bit further than being able to discern between the color of hair or being able to listen to progressions of chords. Color allows people to be individuals with separate qualities about their bodies (hair, skin, eyes), and music allows people to express creativity. Therefore, color and music conflict with Sameness because they express individuality and choice. No one can see color or hear music because everyone is genetically modified before they are born so that they are all the same. They are essentially destined never to be different in order to keep the security of the community. If people are born different in Jonas’ society, then they are released from the community via lethal injection. The narrator describes the euthanization of a twin baby, “He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty” (187). Twins are not allowed within the community because discerning between the two twins would cause confusion and frustration, two qualities the government despises. Release is also applied to adults who have outlived their use in Jonas’ community. In essence, if citizens do not meet the physical requirements deemed safe, then they are erased from the community.
Emotions are what allow human beings to react and to connect to the world. Throughout a day consisting of interaction with other humans or objects, the typical human undergoes changes in emotion, ranging from exhilaration all the way to dejection. His or her emotional state depends on one’s own mental and physical experience whilst doing human things. One could argue that emotions are what define humans. Jonas’ community, however, sees emotions as a catalyst for the disruption of Sameness. Every evening each family unit must discuss their emotions with one another, and even so, their emotions are rather bland. The icing on the cake is when the reader learns that when children enter adolescence, they are given medication to keep their emotions in check. When Jonas has a dream containing sexual desires, his mother tells him, “You’re ready for the pills, that’s all. That’s the treatment for Stirrings” (48). Denizens of the community are taught that emotions need to be restrained and controlled with medication rather than having emotions experienced and felt. No one can discover life through feelings; their community has taken care of that. To be fair, emotions could cause feelings of unrest and anger, which are troublesome for the government. After all, how can a government retain order if the emotions of its own people do not agree with its government’s motives? Due to this decision, however, no one is much of a human being; they are more like robots that react to protocols.
If a community has to sacrifice freedom to have some level of control and security over its citizens, the morality of it can be questioned, especially when it is with something as small as the ability to perceive color in order to make everyone the same. The community sees individuality as a threat to its security because an individual with his or her own desires is more unpredictable than someone whose life has been under the scrying eye of the government. What is the point of living a life if it is not one’s own to control? Sure, the community can give a disobedient miscreant or an elderly citizen a lethal dose of euthanasia, but that same person has already been starved of a life worth living. Removing freedom and implementing security only makes for more complications in a society. The community in The Giver is constantly regulating and surveilling its people, which takes time and human resources. If the community could trust its citizens, more time could be spent working on more productive projects and its citizens could live a full life. Maybe then the community could become free in a fashion similar to the democratic superpowers of the world.
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