The Giver and Homeless Bird
The Giver and Homeless Bird The two stories “The Giver” and “Homeless Bird” both deal with young protagonists who are faced with difficult circumstances where they must endure emotional hardship that is far beyond their years. They are plunged into situations where society around them demands a certain course of action, yet both these protagonists go against the grain in determining the course of action they will follow. In “The Giver”, eleven year old protagonist Jonas makes a conscious choice not to remain as the Receiver of Memory and to allow the people of his community access to memories and learning from them, in order to gain the knowledge that has been missing from their lives. As a result, Jonas is subsequently able to leave his community and start on the journey to reach the Elsewhere, a place that is very far away. In the “Homeless Bird”, thirteen year old protagonist Koly is faced with several difficulties, starting from her early marriage to a young husband who dies soon after. However, she is able to persevere on and through help from various people, she finally manages to not only get a good job that pays her well but also finds a new husband along her journey. Both these protagonists choose to face up to their difficulties by making the choice to go against what is expected of them, in order to satisfy the needs and desires of their own hearts.
Jonas’ sensitivity makes him different from others; it also makes him more receptive and ideally suited to receive the position of Receiver of the community memory, which was a choice that required a great deal of care and discretion. As stated by the Chief Elder, “We failed in our last selection…..I will not dwell on the experience because it causes us all terrible discomfort.”(Lowry). The reason for the “discomfort” the elder mentions are the fact that the previous Receiver sought to be released from the memories. This reveals the inability of the community to accept the memories; neither do they sympathize with the previous receiver Rosemary, who committed suicide in order to be released from the trauma of the memories. Jonas is therefore pitted as the receiver, to receive all the memories of the Community, including the painful ones, due to the high levels of his sensitivity.
In the “Homeless Bird”, the protagonist Koly is faced with a similarly unfriendly societal framework. When her young husband dies, she is automatically rendered a widow and must conform to society and serve her husband’s family. Like Jonas in “the Giver” she must assume tasks that she is not necessarily eager to do because society has dictated her role. Her mother-in-law chooses to give her hard work, just as Jonas in the “Giver” is made to assume the unpleasant task to being the receiver of Memory.
The manner in which both these protagonists choose to face up to the problems they face is through courage and determination, coupled with an unwillingness to be dependent on others. The societies they live in demand certain sacrifices and established behavior patterns/roles from them and at first, both the protagonists accept the societal restrictions. In the case of Jonas, he accepts his role as the receiver, despite the painful nature of the memories. Koly in “Homeless Bird” also accepts her role as widow and submits to her in laws, bearing harsh treatment and all the vagaries of life with fortitude.
However, at the end of the stories, both protagonists choose to follow a course of action that brings them the maximum benefit rather than continue to accede to the demands of the community. In the case of Jonas, he chooses not to continue to be the flag bearer of the community’s painful memories; rather he chooses to let the community bear its own memories and learn from them. In a similar way, Koly faces all the difficulties in her life, but at the end of the story, when she receives an offer of marriage, she chooses to shun the austere lifestyle she is expected to lead as a widow and marry Raji. In addition, she also chooses to take up the job that pays her more money, thereby putting herself in a position where she is able to benefit. In a similar way, Jonas’ release of the memories also helps prepare him for something better – his journey to the Elsewhere. Thus both the protagonists initially accede to their roles, but by the end of the story, they choose to act against the grain of their established roles to adopt a course of action that is favorable to them personally.
The reason why Jonas chooses to release the memories back to the community is because of his own sensitivity to beauty, suffering and pleasure, and he wants to hand over this knowledge back to the community, while he himself seeks higher knowledge in the Elsewhere. Therefore in the story of “the Giver” the protagonist succeeds to a great extent by allowing others to access the memories of the community that he is privileged to have as the Receiver, so that they can learn from the knowledge. While the memories do bother Jonas, they are not as traumatic as they were for the Receiver before him.
In “Homeless Bird” however, Koly comes across different kinds of people as she fights her way through her difficulties. While Koly wants to fight back, prejudiced societal restrictions which denigrate her position as a widow , are responsible to a great extent for the limited options that are available to her. In the “Giver” the reasons why Koly makes the choices that she does are not calculated to benefit the community she lives in but rather to serve her own interests. After the suffering she goes through, her reasons for choosing marriage and a job that pays her well are to establish herself in a comfortable position. But in the case of Jonas, who also goes through difficulties, his ultimate goal is the benefit of the community. He is able to handle the role of the receiver without the trauma of his predecessor; therefore his choice to go his own way at the end is motivated by his desire to ensure that the community also has access to the knowledge that enriched him. Thus, while both protagonists responded to their difficulties by ultimately choosing a path that would benefit their own interests, their reasons for their choices were not the same.
* Lowry. Lois. “The Giver”
* Whelan, Gloria. “Homeless Bird”