The Giver by: Lois Lowry shows a supposed utopian society in the future, where the main character Jonas comes to learn the truth about his society and its inner workings. The Giver is full of different sociological concepts like functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.
Functionalism can be defined as a society that is made of many different parts; each part has a job or a function that must be accomplished to maintain the stability within the society (Henslin 26). Functionalism is part of the macro-social perspective. The macro-social perspective is when sociologists study society in a larger scale. Functionalism plays a big part in The Giver. The civilization has assignments; which are jobs given to the people living there based on their aptitude and personality. For example, Jonasr’s father is given the assignment of a nurturer, where he takes care of newborn children until they are placed with a family. Jonasr’s mother works at the department of justice where she acts as somewhat of a judge or disciplinarian on the people in the community. Each person has a job to do in the community whether it is to be a teacher, landscaper, food deliverer, etc.
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Within the arrangement of jobs there really is not an opportunity for social inequality. Social inequality is when there is an unfairness in opportunities for members of a society based on their social class or status. Even though there is not social inequality in the community, there is a noticeable stigma for the different social classes. For example, the assignment birthmother is seemed to be looked down upon by Jonasr’s family and the rest of the community. When Jonasr’s sister Lily says she wants to be a birthmother because she likes the newborn children, her mother chastises her saying there is little honor in that assignment (Lowry 21). If the person does not do their job or is unable to function in society, they will be released from the community. If someone is not doing their assigned job it creates chaos in the community and the leaders, who are called elders, do not like this. That ties directly into functionalism where maintaining the balance or equilibrium is key to a functioning society. Not only do the job assignments relate to functionalism, but also the basis of everything in the daily lives of the people in the community.
All of the people there are on a strict schedule, and there is a strict set of rules that each person must abide to. There is no uniqueness to the people, they are all neatly groomed and wear the same clothes. It is later found out that they do not see color, so there is an aspect of sameness throughout everything. Because of all uniformity of the people in the community there is the situation of conformity. Conformity is when people tend to adjust their behaviors or beliefs to be the same as their peers or other people who are around them. Conformity can be an active choice, where someone deliberately changes their behavior to match someone else, but in The Giver there is no free will in regards to conformity. Even though each person has different personalities and different likes and dislikes, their government makes sure everyone is the same with their set of laws and rules.
The community in The Giver can be likened to a total institution. A total institution is a setting where people are isolated from larger society and are under strict supervision (Henslin 89). Jonasr’s community cannot be the only society that exists; they are isolated from anyone else in the world and it seems like the people in the community do not know if there is a world outside theirs. They are under strict supervision from the Elders who have learned all their rules from previous Elders, but their community had to have started at one time because the Giver still has memories of things that have happened in the past. Similar to a degradation ceremony in most total institutions that exist now, all people of the community are stripped of any individuality. They all must wear the same clothes and live extremely similar lives, everything is maintained and controlled. The Giver is an extreme example outlining the possible dystopia that can happen when functionalism is forced upon a community.
Conflict theory can be defined as when a society, composed of groups, competes for scarce resources. This theory was created by Karl Marx because of the economical inconsistencies between social classes during the Industrial Revolution. Conflict theory is very similar to functionalism in the way that a society is composed of groups, and each group has a purpose. With conflict theory though, there is the struggle of groups with more power withholding things from the other groups. In Karl Marxr’s case it was the poverty of the lower-class workers because they were getting abused by their upper-class employers (28 Henslin). In The Giver there is no instance of financial or economic conflict theory; because of the extreme equality that the people in the community have. The real conflict theory is the withholding and elimination of memories. Long before Jonas became the receiver the elders of the community decided that the people of the community would not have the memories of the times before them.
They would not know war, pain, or love. The memories can be considered a scarce resource because other than the Giver and Jonas, no one has them. Wisdom can also be treated as a scarce resource because without memories of past issues, the elders have a hard time making decisions regarding the community without consulting the Giver. Once Jonas realizes the truth about all that the people are missing and how his community is flawed, he desires to make a change. But why cant everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldnt have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part (Lowry 112). After his first painful memory is given to him, he understands that being the holder of all the memories, good and bad, is a burden. Jonas thinks his problems will be solved if the community allows a social change to be adopted. Social change can be defined as when a society changes because of external factors or societal evolution (Lumen Learning).
Having memories would be a deviation in the status quo of the community; breaking away from the normal social institution. Jonas starts executing social change in a small way when he gives Gabriel a memory to soothe him when he is fussing in the middle of the night. Jonas cannot handle all of the immoral things that are happening in his community, and how everyone is desensitized to them because they do not know what they are actually doing. He later on makes the decision to leave the community; if the receiver or the Giver leaves the community the memories that they hold will be given to the community. The Giver has to remain in the community to try to solve the inevitable problems that will come from everyone in the community gaining memories of the past. In the end of the novel it is unclear whether or not when Jonas escaped that his memories were given away.
Symbolic interactionism can be defined as when symbols make up a society, and those symbols help people in a society to create meaning, communicate with each other, and help form and evolve views of the world (Henslin 24). In contrast to functionalism, symbolic interactionism can be categorized under the micro-social perspective. A micro-social perspective focuses on more small-scale patterns like social interaction instead of patterns within large groups. Language plays a large role in symbolic interactionism; in The Giver the people are very precise with their language. Very often in todayr’s common discussions a certain level of exaggeration is used; it can help convey a message or level of intensity of a situation. In The Giver precision of language is held to a great importance, and to exaggerate would be to lie, which would be greatly looked down upon.
Im starving Immediately he had been taken aside for a brief private lesson in language precision. He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving, had ever been starving would ever be starving. To say ?starving was to speak a lie. An unintentional lie of course. But the reason for precision of language was to ensure that unintentional lies were never uttered (Lowry 70).
The communityr’s priority with precision of language shows that their society values politeness and also truthfulness. Extreme preciseness of language removes any sort of genuine emotion that communication can convey. Every night each family has to speak about their feelings that they had during the day. After their feelings are spoken out, they are resolved. While there is something good to be said about resolving and understanding oner’s feelings, the way go about it seems to invalidate the personr’s feelings. Being truthful and respectful is a rule that their version of the government has enforced on the people.
Going against such rules would be rebellious. Any sort of defiance against the leaders and the rules they created would be oppositional to the community and could be punishable by being released. Whenever a wrongdoing or any sort of indiscretion is done an apology is in order. Apologies are uttered so often that they lose their meaning. The rule of frequent and empty apologies again connects The Giver to the topic of conformity. Another key part of social interactionism is relationships. How people in a society interact with one another is vital to understanding socialization in general. In the present-day world relationships with our family are the first opportunities to develop beliefs. Parents play a key role in developing the concepts and ideas that a person believes. Parents teach their children their version of morals and what is acceptable and what is not. In The Giver everything that parents teach their children align with what the community wants them to believe; it is the same way that the parents were taught by their own parents, so they do not know any other way. The things that a parent passes down to a child can help develop an inner thought process that allows that person to see the world and the people in it a certain way. These things can equate to Cooleyr’s theory of the Looking-Glass self.
The Looking-Glass self is how oner’s self is developed through how others see us and how they react to us (Henslin 70). In The Giver Jonasr’s self starts off aligned within the guidelines of his community. From his early childhood until he becomes a receiver, Jonas is taught by his parents, teachers, and leaders how to act, and how to be a functioning member of their society. His interactions with his parents and peers shape his beliefs, especially how things are operated within his society, he knows no other way then how he has been taught. He is only able to have opinions that ally with the rules and bases of the community and how it is run. When he becomes a receiver and starts receiving memories from the Giver, it changes his inner thoughts and his self.
He is conflicted between what he thought he knew and what he has learned. He begins to question the communityr’s version of morality and it changes the way he sees the people and leadership within his community. The aspect of role taking within symbolic interactionism plays a large part in how Jonasr’s presence in society. In the world today, children often emulate the behavior of others to help them better develop their self. The only way Jonas would be able to succeed and advance in his life would be to adopt the beliefs and behaviors that the community enforced. By mirroring the actions of his parents and his peers Jonas developed his inner thoughts and being in line with what his society deemed correct.
In conclusion, The Giver is a drastic example of sociological concepts and how when pushed to the extreme rules and regulations can negatively affect a society. The idea of sameness takes away any sort of individuality that people within a society can have. The people in The Giver are ignorant to the things they do not have. Those things are not material possessions but memories that can change the way they make decisions. The leadership takes away any free will with decision making by not allowing memories of the past civilization and society that was before them. Instead they force one person to hold all of the memories and emotions that accompany them. The Giver can be considered a response from Lois Lowry on the possible outcomes of having a perfect society.
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