Tuesday, July 27, 2010

" The Chief Elder claims that the Assignments are a way of honouring differences. Does this ring true? Based on you knowledge of other parts of the novel, is Jonas' s soceity one that values sameness or difference?" I pondered on the question staring at me on the Giver handout of chapter 6 to 9.

Just the day before yesterday, we had completed analysing chapters 6 to 9 of the novel. The question above was the question I had some difficulty in trying to answer. It was also through this question that I was able to gain new and surprising insights to the book.

It is very clear that Jonas's community does indeed value Sameness, where everything is standardized and uniform. The people have the same physical appearance such as dark eyes (except for a few rare individuals that have pale eyes like Jonas), haircuts which the Tens receive during their ceremony and also the same tunics, which are of a nondescript shade. The people do not hold memories, see colours or experience the weather. They are ignorant of the existence of animals and have not experienced nature. They all live in the same kind of dwelling with the same type of furniture (the only exception being the Giver himself), and are not allowed to have excess to books. They follow the rules obediently and rather blindly, apologise the same way with the use of the Standard Apology Phrase and practice the same rituals such as dream-telling, the evening telling of feelings and attend the Ceremonies every year without fail. Hence, it can be seen that everything is uniform in Jonas's community, no one or nothing ever being different than another.

However, what struck me the most about the uniformity of Jonas's society is that everyone, because they rigidly obey all the rules, practice all the rituals and do the same things is that they have been brought up to posses the same personality type! This can be seen by the fact that there are rules governing aspects such as always being polite, never rude, always apologising when needed, being exceptionally humble, by not talking about each other's accomplishments and also being a conformist. Thus this shows that no only are things and physical aspects of Jonas's community uniform, but also the people that live in it are as well, behaving like programmed robots.

Also, another point that struck me was that spouses are assigned so carefully, choices and pairing being made so meticulously by the committee of Elders not just so that it would be a best fit and that no problems will arise from the relationship but most importantly to provide and cultivate a good family environment for the children. The matching of spouses are so perfect, paired in such a way that they compliment each other so that after they receive their children, they are able to successfully raise them and teach them the ways of the community in order that the children may fit into the society perfectly. This is also to ensure that the children have a perfect upbringing in order that when they grow up, they will be able to contribute to the society in the labour force, sustaining the community.

In addition, the assignments are definitely not a way of honouring differences since not all assignments command equal respect or status. For instance, the Receiver of Memory is known as the assignment with the most honour while Birthmothers are looked down upon and the assignment called one without honour. Jonas's father also complains about the night crew Nurturers which lack something necessary to take on a more important job in the day. Hence it can be seen that people are labelled by what assignments they get and there are stereotypes of certain assignments and stigmas involved as well. Thus, though Jonas's society seems to promote equality and Sameness on the surface, it can be seen that there is an assignment hierachy in the society. Therefore it can be seen that the ways of the community go against the very fact of individuality.

During the lesson, Miss Li also posed a very thought-provoking question to us, "why does Jonas's community lack a name?". I was quite taken aback by the question since I had never thought about that and had just accepted Jonas's community without a name. I never knew it was necessary for Jonas's community to have a name, though I knew the utopia in the Handmaid's Tale had a name. After a long moment of silence, where it seemed like everyone did not know the answer, Miss Li finally gave it to us and it hit me like a ton of bricks!

Miss Li said that the author was trying to keep the community as open as possible to the reader's imagination and interpretation. Without a name, the community does not have a specific geographical location or fixed time period and hence can be interpreted differently by different readers. Thus, Jonas's community can happen anytime and anywhere. Also, after I thought about it more, my answer to Miss Li's question would be that the author was trying to show almost how impossible it was for Jonas's type of community to exist. Jonas lives in a utopia, the word when translated into Greek meaning No Place. Hence, without a name for the community, it does not have an identity and thus makes Jonas's society seem vague and unreal. Without a name, it can be seen as the community only having a imaginary existence, something not permanently there, and maybe not even possible at all!

0 comments Louisa :) A world not ours @ 3:49 AM

A colourless world