Thursday, November 22, 2012
Neil Postman suggested that dystopias tend to fall between the two poles of pain-based (1984) and pleasure-based (Brave New World) control of the citizenry. Lowry's citizens are taking something a lot like Huxley's Soma, only moreso: they feel nothing strongly, and some things they feel not at all. It's a dystopia of emotional and physical subtraction: no pain, no pleasure, no problem.
The trade-off for the full range of human feelings is a peaceful, well-ordered existence in which even physical pain and accidental death are almost non-existent. But our young protagonist Jonas will soon learn both the secrets of his community and the secrets of himself.
The Giver is a dystopia, not dystopic science fiction: many of the qualities of Jonas's world fall apart when examined too closely. The same can be said of a number of classics of dystopian literature that include Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Orwell's 1984. A dystopia may be an allegory about a condition that already exists and/or of a condition that could exist if things keep on going the way they're going (The Handmaid's Tale satisfies those criteria). It doesn't necessarily hold together as a plausible imagination of a workable society (again, The Handmaid's Tale satisfies that criteria: it really isn't science fiction).
Figuring out what the conditions are that Lowry sees in the here-and-now as deeply disturbing enough to imagine a dystopia around them is part of the enjoyment of reading the novel. It's concise and moving and possessed of appealing characters. Its only real problem is that it ends in a rush. It doesn't overstay its welcome. Recommended.