The Giver generously begins giving right away with a meal on page 5 – the evening meal to be precise: the third of the daily scheduled trifecta which also includes the morning meal and midday meal. Right, so if I sound like I’m harping on the terminology a bit, it’s only because the titles are the ONLY description of food we get in this book. Ever. *sigh*
So back to the opening meal, which in this case is the perfect scene to introduce the dystopia that 11-year-old Jonas calls life. It’s seemingly idyllic at first: the entire family sits down together to eat and talk about their day, taking turns and sharing feelings, but it’s clearly more Robots-meets-Beaver-Cleaver than real family happiness. (And no, it’s not just because nobody will tell me what they’re eating that has me so dissatisfied.)
Beyond the meal etiquette, we also learn about the community (or communism-ity; tomato/tomahto) and how it evolved from a quest for “Sameness.” Jonas’s society is built on not only same behavior/attitude/lifestyle, but a standard of absolute sameness that extends to even the physical landscape (there are no more geographic features like mountains or even hills) and the seasons (or weather of any kind – no snow, rain, or even sunshine).
It could go without saying – but I’m still going to say it – that there are no flavors in any sense of the word, which is why the obvious catalyst for change is a hunger by one character for newness, variety, elsewhere. Unfortunately, just when we’re starting to taste that same desire, the book ends. Or, rather, the writing stops, but there is no end to the story. Yet, as much as I personally dislike an interpretive finish, I get the idea behind it – to leave readers with some food for thought, as you will.
What struck me wasn’t so much the detail-less ending, but the detail-less throughout. We were given specifics on intangibles like class schedules and job titles, but never for concrete items such as, well, food. To slip in a phrase of what was on the table at that opening meal (e.g. “Jonas said, reaching for a round roll”) or to say what they feed Gabriel (the newchild that Father brings home from the Nurturing Center because he needs extra attention) would’ve given us something real to anchor this fictional world that is full of ideas and concepts and apparently nothing else.
Yes, I could use my imagination to visualize anything from a traditional meat-and-potatoes meal, to a bowl of mushy “sameness” (ala Cream of Wheat), to a futuristic nutrient shake or even a perfect pill. But I don’t want to guess; I want to know. All I needed were a few scraps, morsels, crumbs along the way so that that open ending would’ve left me merely hungry and not downright starving.