The Utopian Function of Memory in Lois Lowry's the Giver (Critical Essay) By Extrapolation

The Utopian Function of Memory in Lois Lowry's the Giver (Critical Essay)

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2009-03-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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Description

* Lois Lowry's novel The Giver (1993) inhabits the discursive space of dystopia, and like most dystopias, The Giver begins in an imagined world intended to be worse than the reader's own, although it is initially somewhat inviting. Lowry's world is an engineered Utopia gone wrong due to its extinction of aesthetics and personal choice, and through her protagonist's alienation from his society and resistance to it, the novel offers hope for a better future. Leading scholars of sf and Utopian studies, like Lyman Tower Sargent, Tom Moylan and Fredric Jameson, stress that dystopia is ambivalent in nature, situated between the Utopian text, which by imagining a better (though not perfect) society allows the historical pre-conditions of Utopia's emergence to be conceptualized, and the anti-utopia, which philosophically rejects "any Utopian effort to create a new society, or even ... any fantasy of doing so" (Jameson 54), and which "always manages to revert to its baseline project of producing and reproducing the ruling order of things" (Moylan 140). (1) Central to The Giver's dystopian ambiguity between the poles of Utopia and anti-utopia is its treatment of memory. Like many definitive dystopias, The Giver warns against the dangers of cultural amnesia by depicting the suppression of historical memory as a tool of static totalitarian control and the production of infantile citizens. But Lowry also shows that memory, when not brought entirely under state control, is a source of considerable individual and emancipating power. This essay aims to elucidate Lowry's treatment of memory by utilizing the Utopian theory of Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977), whose influential thinking about the relationship between memory and the not-yet of Utopia lends analytical clarity to Lowry's provocative but highly figurative and unscientific explanation of how memory works in the novel. I argue that Lowry's method of transmitting memory from Giver to Receiver, the point at which the narrative moves from science fiction into fantasy, can be read as a dramatization of Bloch's Utopian concepts of recognition (anagnorisis) and the Not-Yet-Conscious, a reading which demonstrates that memory, historical awareness and hope can be harnessed to bring about resistance and significant change. By privileging memory as the novel's one means of anticipating an alternate, better existence, which is the hope embodied in Bloch's Not-Yet-Conscious, Lowry makes memory both the source of potential transformative change and of the novel's final moment of possible Utopian realization.