Directed Close Reading
Language is a powerful tool that is used in every society for communication and expression of ideas. Lois Lowry in the novel, The Giver, gives an account of how language in the societal setting can be used to take control over people’s behavior. This novel is presented from an eleven-year-old boy called Jonas (Lowry 1). In this society, people do not know the meaning of pain, hunger or even hatred. Life is presented as pleasant and people live together in harmony. However, they are deprived of the true meaning of family life, color or passion. In this society, a person is given the power to apply for a spouse of their choice and when they get married, they are given two children who have spent two years at the nurturing centre (Lowry 14). In addition, children are born by ‘birthmothers’ who are not given the chance to see them. When a child is twelve years old, they are considered mature and are given a specific task depending on their capabilities. This becomes the end of the family unit and parents are sent to the House of Old where in time they are ‘released’ from the world (Lowry 2).
As Jonah approaches his twelfth year, he is anxious about the Ceremony of Twelve where he will be assigned his duties in the society. On the day of the ceremony, he is given the duty of the “Receiver of Memory”, which is an honor in this society (Lowry 47). However, keeping the memories of the whole society is not an easy task, as he experiences what others have never experienced. While nurturing one of the ‘new children’ named Gabriel (Lowry 22). He uses some of the good memories to sooth him. They become close friends and when Jonah realizes that Gabriel is to be released from the society, he decides that he has to save Gabriel. They run away into another village, which understands the meaning of color and music. As seen in this novel, the community does not allow citizens to have feelings therefore doublespeak language is employed as a tool of control.
Doublespeak has been used since time immemorial to create different impressions in people’s minds. According to Lutz, doublespeak is language that is intended to conceal and distort a person’s line of thought (Lutz 299). The language of doublespeak is chosen wisely in order to come up with a statement that will mislead the people. On the other hand, propaganda is described as language that is used in a specific way to influence people’s perceptions towards someone or something whether good or bad. The connection between propaganda and doublespeak is the use of language to distract people’s opinions. Advertisers, politicians and other people use these forms of language to influence people. In The Giver, the society uses terms like ‘newchild’, ‘birthmother’ and ‘release’ to control the lives of the people.
In the modern society, the term ‘birthmother’ is used as a reference to the biological mother of a child (Lowry 21). This is generally used in comparison to the adoption mother who takes care of the child as he or she grows. It is not a commonly used term as it is only used in the adoption circles. In The Giver, birthmother is a term used to refer to the woman who gives birth to the child. The birthmother is not allowed to see their child ever in their lifetime. The child is taken to the nurturing centre and after two years, to its assigned parents. In this society, the term birthmother has been used as a form of propaganda where certain people are given certain labels that signify their roles in the society. According to Cross, “name-calling” is a form of propaganda, which is used to affect people’s perception of others (Cross 262). She also explains that name-calling is often used to create vague and negative feelings towards others. In this society, by calling such women birthmothers, everyone is led to believe that their only role in the society is to give birth to children owned by the society. The birthmothers do not have any rights over their offspring and blindly follow what the society dictates. The effect that propaganda has on people’s attitudes is well illustrated in Jonas’ society. People are given certain labels that dictate what they do and do not do as they follow the rules set by the society.
In the modern society, the term ‘new child’ exists but in a different form (Lowry 7). People describe a ‘new child’ as a newborn baby as opposed to what is seen in this novel. In our society, children are born to their parents and the joy of having a newborn is shared only among friends. In addition, the birth parents of a newborn have sole responsibility over what the child does. However, as described in The Giver, new children mean a new breed of children. In this society, people regard new children as those who are born at a particular period in this society. These children are received as the society’s property and the parents have no power whatsoever over new children. The society takes the children to the nurturing centre and later distributes them among various families. According to Cross, “glittering generalities” is another form of propaganda that uses nice words in describing something or someone (Cross 263). In Jona’s community, people and things are given certain names that are honorable hence their acceptance for the different assignments given to them. The use of terms like new children creates a feeling of the positive side of having a breed of new babies while in the real sense people are being deprived of their family rights. In this perspective, the language used in this society is highly generalized to suit the society’s needs.
The term ‘release’ is used in the modern world to mean to set something or someone free from some kind of bondage or detention. For example, when a person releases a bird, it means that it has been set free from its cage. However, in the world of The Giver, to ‘release’ means to kill someone (Lowry 7). Nevertheless, the people are led to believe that when people are released, they are sent to another world called Elsewhere (Lowry 32). This belief enables people to participate willingly in the release. As defined by Lutz, this is doublespeak of the highest level. In one of Lutz examples of doublespeak, a diet is referred to as “nutritional avoidance therapy” to make it more attractive to people (Lutz 298). In this perspective, Jonas’ society refers to death, as ‘release’ making it seem like a good thing, which is untrue. This is a serious form of doublespeak where language is used to deceive and mislead people.
From these examples, it is evident that this society fears human connection because it leads to the disruption of communal harmony. The irony in this case is that the society creates individuation while it leads the people to believe that they have achieved ‘sameness’ (Lowry 84). If this society is so opposed to people being different, then all people should be given similar assignments. However, people are given different roles with some being more honorable than others are. In order to ensure human connection does not exist, the people are robbed of all their memories with only one person carrying the whole community’s memories. It is evident that the people of this society desire to know the real world but have been denied this right of knowledge. As understood from Lutz and Cross, propaganda and doublespeak are the main forms of language used in this society. Lutz says that doublespeak is “language used to conceal thought” (Lutz 298). People are given certain titles and described in a specific way intentionally in order to influence what kind of decisions they make.
In conclusion, language is a powerful tool, which can be easily used to sway people’s opinions. In making any decisions, people must analyze the language being used and decide on what to make out of it. As seen in Jonas’ society, it is easy to manipulate language in different ways thus affecting a whole society. However, people still have the power to decide what to believe. If people use only words in forming opinions, it is most likely that decisions will be misled. Lutz and Cross, give relevant examples where politicians have constantly misled people using language. Lutz gives an example of Jimmy Carter calling a failed attempt to free hostages, “an incomplete success” (Lutz 302). From the use of such words, it is possible to see how language is manipulated to mean different things. In summary, the use of manipulated language forms like doublespeak and propaganda has a great impact on the people and their choices.
Cross, Donna Woolfolk. “Propaganda: How Not to Be Bamboozled.” Language to persuade: 262-272. Print.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.
Lutz, William. “From ‘The World of Doublespeak’”. Language to persuade: 298-305. Print