Lois Lowry Meets Socrates: The Giver and The Repiblic

So, I’ve figured that we have mentioned this connection in class n more than one occasion, so why not blog about it? Definitely up there on my list of favorite stories that I read while in middle and high school, and the connection between these works is quite strong.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a book in which a society is created to considered what is thought to be Utopian, defined and derived from the Greeks as “an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system.” However, a more appropriate term for the society is a dystopia, also from Greek terms defined by “an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.” Discussing all of this as an eighth grader was a bit heavy for mostly everybody in the class, but reflecting upon this at a more experienced age in terms of readings and classes that I have taken has strengthened the ideas that came from reading that, as reflected on me talking about this even as a freshman in college. Lois Lowry creates this society where rules are set and followed right down to almost frightening details to keep things in an order, or “just” as Socrates would refer to it.

The following are the rules that the society in The Giver must follow:

1. There is no lying

2. You must use precise language

3. You must share feelings at dinner

4.You must share dreams at breakfast

5. You must take pills for stirrings

6. You must finish volunteer hours

7. You can only have two kids, one boy and one girl

8. There is no fighting

9. Adults and children can’t look at each other nude

10. Respect elders

11. Be respectful

12. Can’t ride a bike before the age of nine

13. Girls must wear ribbons until the age of nine

14. Must get a life assignment at Ceremony of Twelve

15. You must apologize for bad things

(Taken from a classroom website http://www.nssd112.org/northwood/!!!teachers/lomonaco/thegiv~1/RULES.HTM)

To relate this to Plato’s Republic, we find that the first four rules can go hand in hand with the restrictions on music and the stories that could be told. There is of course a difference in that Socrates did not decree that feelings be shared, but I feel like this is Lowry’s checkup on the same ideas that they cannot be thinking negative thoughts or experience anything that will make them rebel against the order of the society.

Rules 5 and 7 relate to the concepts of birth in The Republic, although there are again slight differences that lead to the same results of controlled procreation. The “stirrings” that 5 is referring to is when young boys start becoming sexually curious and aroused, so to prevent them from any sort of dabbling and experimenting with their sexual selves they are required to take a pill to take away these happenings. In terms of childbirth, one of the assigned jobs of the society is the job of birthmothers who are the only one’s allowed to give birth, and each family that was assigned children were allowed only one boy child and one girl child. This relates to the restriction on the amount of children and when children were allowed to be had in Socrates’ society.

Lastly, I’d say the strongest correlation is with the idea of people being assigned to their place in society and the “noble lie” that hovers over the society. The “Ceremony of Twelve” that Lowry’s rules refer to is a time in a child’s life where he is assigned a job that he or she is best suited for in the betterment of the society. This is an obvious relation to The Republic because that is exactly what Socrates felt was the most effective for society to have people where they are most proficient. However, one special assignment was given to a special boy who met the criteria, Jonas, who was assigned to be the “Receiver.” This means that he is responsible to hold all of the memories of the past and to absorb what is given to him by “The Giver,” who was the receiver before Jonas. This is similar to the idea of the philosopher-kings that ruled over Socrates’ society. They knew everything that had to be known through an examined life, just as the receiver must learn all of the past memories from the giver so that they may be preserved.

Overall, if Plato’s Republic excited you, you would most likely enjoy reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It’s a nice, short read, but will definitely get your cogs turning as you lounge on the beach this summer.


One Response to Lois Lowry Meets Socrates: The Giver and The Repiblic

  1. Laura Lane says:

    I am teaching this book for the first time even though I’ve taught middle school for years ( I finally convinced everyone to take it off summer reading and teach THE GIVER). I made a connection to Plato for my class today. They were blown away–perception vs reality! Great Blog!

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