The Giver: Why the Past Matters

Although Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver was published almost 25 years ago, it’s as relevant as ever today. Why? Because it’s a book that calls us to remember the past, even if the past contains uncomfortable realities.

In modern America, it’s getting more and more difficult to remember the past. Names of streets, buildings, and holidays are being changed. Statues and monuments are being replaced or torn down. Novels like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, which grapple with racial issues, are increasingly banned.

And yet if we simply throw out our society’s knowledge of the past, what good does that do us? Eliminating the past simply deprives us of our ability to gain the wisdom we need for the present.

The past is certainly full of dark realities. Slavery, racism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression have been prominent in this country for a long time. Many of America’s founders and other key figures had major flaws.

But should we just eliminate their memory?

No. We need to remember and learn. And that’s where Lois Lowry’s Newbery-winning novel The Giver is as relevant as ever.

The Safe-Space World of The Giver

The setting of The Giver is a dystopian future in which memories of the past have been eliminated. Nobody talks about conflict, war, or other uncomfortable events from history. Nobody reads books of any substance. Everyone in this society has been brought up to avoid saying or doing anything that would make anyone else uncomfortable in any way.

Essentially, the world of The Giver is the world that our culture is headed to. It’s the world of safe spaces, the world of ultimate tolerance. A world where we don’t think about the past; we only think about now. And no one can offend anyone else because Non-Offensiveness rules. So either you accept the state-sponsored status quo—or else.

But there is one person in the story who knows the past: an old man called the Giver. Unfortunately, he’s essentially a hermit who is consulted only occasionally.

Although the Giver is an important figure, the novel focuses on an adolescent boy named Jonas. Jonas has grown up in this “safe,” ultra-tolerant culture, and he accepts its values without question. But when he finds out that he is to become the next Giver, and to therefore receive all of the culture’s memories, he begins to learn about the past—with all of its good and all of its evil—and he starts asking some questions about his society.

The Past: The Key to Appreciating the Present

Ultimately, the story teaches us that it is absolutely necessary for us to know the past if we are to have full meaning in our lives. The past full of both good and evil, sorrow and joy. It includes darkness, oppression, cruelty, and the horrors of war. But if we do not know the past, we will also fail to appreciate the blessings of love, and family, and friendship, and freedom itself.

The Giver teaches us that a culture’s memory of the past is essential, even if it includes painful realities that we would rather forget. It reminds us that if we don’t understand the past, we won’t have true meaning in our lives today. And we won’t know why racism and oppression are wrong if we don’t read novels like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird. We won’t realize the nuances of freedom if we don’t recognize that although our ancestors had flaws, we are standing on their shoulders.

The Giver is a story worth paying attention to. And it reminds us that no matter how much our culture is trying to wipe out the past, there are things that we need to remember. The future depends upon it.


If you’re interested in seeing a dramatic production of The Giver, Maranatha Communication Arts major Kristina Curtis is directing it this spring on the Maranatha campus. And if you’re interested in reading and discussing the novel, sign up for Adolescent Literature for the spring 2019 semester on campus at MBU.