As The Giver begins, the protagonist Jonas’ community seems almost perfect; its citizens are polite to a tee, are required to talk openly about their feelings to promote emotional well being and seem to be without a care in the world. Gradually more disturbing aspects of the society become apparent; citizens have very little choice over the direction their lives will take, at twelve they are assigned careers and later in life spouses. They do not give birth to their own children, but take medication to suppress their sexual urges and apply to The Committee to be allocated children, who are born by women given the role of Birthmothers. The children never meet their true mothers or know which other children have the same Birthmother as them. Each live with a sibling also not related to them by blood in their assigned family unit. Once children move out of their family homes the “parents” go and live with the Childless Adults and after that they live in The House of the Old, where the elderly are looked after, but also physically disciplined when naughty.
Despite all of this people are very content – the only complaint ever made is how hard it is to change any of the society’s rules. The source of this widespread happiness becomes clear when Jonas is chosen as the community’s new Receiver of Memory when he turns twelve and is allocated a career. The Receiver of Memory’s job is to hold all the memories of the past, spanning back prior to the establishment of the community, on the behalf of its citizens, bearing the burdensome pain of wisdom and knowledge of both the good and painful events of the past. The Receiver has this role so that when the community is faced by a problem The Committee can turn to him for advice in light of his knowledge of the past. The current Receiver, an elderly man, becomes The Giver when he begins to train Jonas in preparation for his lonely task and transmits memories to him.
Lowry’s simplistic and direct writing is perfect for younger readers, but despite using a stark style Lowry manages not to lose any of the story’s appeal to adults; it almost makes the dark themes more disturbing somehow to have them presented so simply.