In this uthopic-disthopic society pain has been removed. But we get to know that only passing through a process of suffering one can become really wise.
Where you thinking of the ancient Greeks, Aeschylus in particular, when he says: knowledge doesn't come but from sufference? Or was it your experience, your life, which seems to characterize so much your writings?
When I sit down to write a book, I begin with a character, a setting, and an idea of some journey that character will make. This will be a metaphorical journey, or course; but often, as I write, I find that the character makes a physical journey as well—as Jonas does when he flees the world he has known and makes his way into an unknown realm. I am not aware, while I write, of calling forth past writers or thinkers. But of course all of us are influenced by our education and by what we have learned from writings of the past. I never, while writing this book, thought of the Greeks—of Aeschylus, as you suggest, or of Plato, as others have suggested. And yet what I studied of the Greeks years ago is still there in my brain, deeply buried in my subconscious. Everything we learn stays with us and affects what we think—or in my case, what I write.
The more western society 'grows up', the more it looks like the one you described almost 20 years ago. In fact, death's refuse, or better: this kind of taboo about death, is becoming little by little stronger. How do you see the situation? Do you consider this as a real danger?
Generations ago, death was a frequent and expected event within families. I own a house that was built in 1768. Down the road is a small cemetery and in it lie those who lived in my house more than two hundred years ago. I can read the gravestones and see that many, many children died then, and young wives and mothers. Those who lived in my house would have died there, in their beds, and been carried by their family members down the hill to be buried. It would have been an intimate, loving, and sadly commonplace act.
But of course that is no longer true. Technology and science have prolonged our lives but at the same time have caused us to to see death as a fearful enemy, something to be battled, and those battles take place not in the warm comfort of our homes but in the sterile atmosphere of a hospital. The family retreats as the technicians take over. And we have begun to avert our eyes.
Like everything presented in THE GIVER, there is no right or wrong. It is a book about things we have sacrificed, about what we have given up, and what we have gained. We have a longer life expectancy now that we did in the 1700’s. This is good. But we have sacrificed the familial intimacy and acceptance of death. In the book, the society has gone even farther, has disavowed death, and re-named it.
And what about freedom of choise, which looks progressively weaker?
The entire book is about choice. In essence, it is intended to cause readers to think deeply about political choices. The community in the book has become very safe, has found ways of dealing with some of the things that threaten contemporary. There is no danger of overpopulation, for example. But (as in today’s China) they no longer choose the size of their own families. In the book, there is no divorce. But (as in some of today’s India) they do not choose their mates. So the reader is constantly weighing the issues that freedom and democracy present.
In the dangerous idea of sameness is hidden the ideal of equality. Am I right? What's the line which divides the two?
Same thing. There is no bigotry, no discrimination. This is good. What have they sacrificed, though? They have lost all the diversity that makes our societies so rich and interesting.
Love and sex are banned. Control of birth is perfectly elaborated. Euthanasy as well. Are these the themes that made “The Giver” a book banned by many associations and libraries? Aren't instead themes which should be considered challenging for guys?
It is true that THE GIVER has been banned in some places in the USA and that some groups of individuals see it as a dangerous book for young people to read or discuss. I have come to think that these groups or individuals are people who are fearful: fearful of knowledge, and of independent thinking. They are more comfortable with strict rules and restricted information.
The banning of THE GIVER is ironic, because one of the things Jonas’s world has lost is literature. Not only are all troubling and thought-provoking books gone—but ALL books have disappeared. As has art, and music. Things that promote deep thought or deep feelings have been eradicated.
The most interesting theme, in my opinion, regards this freedom of lying which seems to allow individuals to be themselves. Would you talk a bit about it?
The entire book is about hypocrisy. Sadly, this is something we see today most clearly in the political world. Lying is commmonplace and we have learned, with good cause, to mistrust our leaders.
You said you got many ideas about the book in Japan. Why?
I lived in Japan as a child and I love that country and its people. Yet as a Caucasian child in Japan in the late 1940’s, post WW II, I was viewed as “foreign”...and I viewed the Japanese the same way...as “different”...and this prevented us from truly connecting with each other. We were fearful of the differences. The world of THE GIVER has done away with the concept of different cultures. And of course there is no religion, And no money. All of those things that cause suspicion or conflict are gone—hence no crime, no war. But at such a high cost.
You said you write for young people because it makes you remember of your life as a child and because much of you adulthood was spent taking care of your children. Is it still the same?
It is not that writing for young people makes me remember my own childhood but rather the reverse. Remembering my own childhood makes me write for young people. Although the details of everyday life are very different now from the years when I was young, he emotions of childhood have stayed the same. The fact that I have such clear memories of those emotions makes me able to put myself into the consciousness of a young fictional protaganist and to re-experience all of those fears and joys and yearnings.
What do you think of this triumph of the young-adult genre?
Today’s young people are growing up in a very complex and difficult and challenging world. I think literate people have always used fiction as a way of making sense of their own lives. For a young adult, the privacy of a book is a very safe way to explore complicated feelings, and fiction, in particular—the excitement and suspense of a story—leads them into an exploration of issues that seem relevant. I’m always very moved when young people write to me and tell me how a book has touched them personally, has made them think.
Do you still dream of a world in peace or else you consider war as connaturated to human beings?
That’s a question I can’t answer. I watched my father go off to war when I was a child, and generations later I stood beside my own son’s casket and watched as he was buried with military honors. Now I have grandchildren—am I to go through this again someday? There are times when I feel very pessimistic. But then things happen that give me hope. The election of Barack Obama was one such thing. The letters I receive from today’s young readers are another.