Boredom, Reverie and The Giver


I was griping the other day about kids who never had the opportunity–either because of being overprogrammed or overentertained–to be bored, and boredom of course gives the opportunity for reverie, for unstructured play and for intellectual and emotional growth. It gives the opportunity for depth.

And the only place I seem to get the opportunity for quiet reverie is the car.


So this morning in the car I was thinking about about Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, which means today is a long post.

The Giver is an allegory . . . and I’m certain no one here is surprised by that. But what you get from an allegory depends on what you have to give to it. For instance, some coming from a politically conservative mindset may see this story as a cautionary tale of a society in which individual liberty and freedom are sacrificed on the altar of peace, security and comfort . . . and that is part of the story. It is real and there to read. There’s more, though; the importance of history and the ability of one person of conscience to alter the course of events in a society, for instance.

And of course, there is also a level on which this speaks to the individual. The story is also an allegory for what happens in therapy or analysis. There are areas in a person’s life that are too painful to visit and we put them away, give them to our Receiver of Memories, and when we put those areas away we no longer need to feel the pain. But something else happens as well: we can no longer use those memories, no longer have the wisdom those memories and that pain might bring, no longer have the depth, the judgment. We are paralyzed, sometimes, in our decision-making as the Community was when someone referred a problem to the Committee of Elders, because our internal elders just want to avoid visiting the pain.

If we give too much to the Receiver of Memories, though, we can only skate the surface of our lives and our feelings. You know these people: “I had an emotion once. Didn’t much like it.” There seems something superficial: they make good conversation, but you feel that you can’t touch anything, you can’t really matter to them. Baseball is important, and they can get mad at almost anything, but . . . anger is a secondary emotion, an emotion that is our response when something we love is threatened, when we might feel loss or shame . . .and we’ve given those away to our Receiver of Memories.

And if we give too much away to our Receiver of Memories, we have to rely on the precision of language to hide precisely how we truly want to feel. The discussion around the dinner table in The Giver was called a sharing of feelings, but nothing was shared and the adults lied, except once. To all appearances, Jonas lived in a loving family, but there was no love. Perhaps that was the most honest thing Jonas’s parents ever brought to that table. Even Nurturing was a lie, or if not a lie, then only the most shallow of truths: Jonas’s father could hug and cuddle and care for his charges and without even a change of expression, could kill them. The family could take in Gabriel for a year and Release him because he cried at night, and Fiona, who became Caretaker for the Elderly, was quite efficient at Releasing them . . . which to any human raised outside the Community meant murdering them.


One is reminded of the book 1984, and the concept of Newspeak, where words mean what the government says they mean. It is frightening what people will give up in order to not feel pain, and what pain they will cause. I am reminded here of how the people of Omelas, the ones who didn’t walk away, rationalized the torture of the innocent in Ursela Le Guin’s short story.

Following the therapy allegory a bit further, Jonas ultimately was the Giver, giving the community back, forcing the community to take back, the memory, the pain, the joy and the love, giving them back their depth and their humanity. But the Giver who had been the community’s Receiver of Memories, what of him? He stayed to help the people cope with the memories he’d lived with his whole adult life. He was the therapist.


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