Posted in Book slices

Book slices: The Giver, the Meaning of Release


Title: The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry

This haunting story centers on Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he’s given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.

The slice: chapter 19

One of the most intense chapters of The Giver Quartet is in the first book.

Since ‘release’ was first mentioned, I was wondering what exactly it meant. At first I thought it’s obviously death but everyone was too casual, too matter-of-fact about it, so I started doubting myself. Jonas wasn’t sure what it meant either and reading the book from his perspective made me unsure too. Then a little baby was supposed to be ‘released’ so I started hoping it really meant going to a different community. In the case of the elderly it surely had to mean death but the description of the old man being so happy about his own release made me doubt even that.

But then finally in the chapter 19, Jonas gets to watch a release and the story of this colorless world becomes even more disturbing.

The chapter starts with Jonas telling the Giver that his father is releasing a newchild today. There was a set of identical twins and only one could be part of the community, so Jonas wanted to watch the ceremony of release for the other one. His father told him he makes the kid clean and comfy, preforms the ritual and then someone takes the baby away. The Giver tells him that now, as the Receiver, he can and should watch it.

It’s very unsettling to read about Jonas watching the ceremony because his expectations are so different from reality. He watches the tape: his father weighs the twins, gives the bigger one to his assistant and then stays alone in the room with the smaller one.

“Now he cleans him up and makes him comfy,” Jonas told him. “He told me.”

“Be quiet, Jonas,” The Giver commanded in a strange voice. “Watch.”

Obediently Jonas concentrated on the screen, waiting for what would happen next. He was especially curious about the ceremony part.

His father turned and opened the cupboard. He rook out a syringe and a small bottle. Very carefully he inserted the needle into the bottle and began to fill the syringe with a clear liquid.

Jonas first assumes the baby is getting shots. What makes the scene really scary is how his father acts like it’s no big deal. It’s only after the little boy’s body goes completely limp, that Jonas understands what just happened.

He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen numbly.

His father tidied the room. Then he picked up a small carton that lay waiting on the floor, set it on the bed, and lifted the limp body into it. He placed the lid on tightly.

He picked up the carton and carried it to the other side of the room. He opened a small door in the wall; Jonas could see darkness behind the door. It seemed to be the same sort of chute into which trash was deposited at school.

His father loaded the carton containing the body into the chute and gave it a shove.

“Bye-bye, little guy,” Jonas heard his father say before he left the room. Then the screen went blank.

The story of Rosemary requesting to be released, and choosing to do it herself, makes this chapter even more memorable and the responsibility of being the Receiver even scarier. Jonas learns a lot that day: about his own power that comes with being the Receiver, about his father and the reality of the world he lives in. Watching the ceremony changes the way he sees everything around him and makes the reader see the story in a whole new light.

Posted in Book slices

Book slices: Oliver Twist, The Beginning

18254.jpg Title: Oliver Twist

Author: Charles Dickens

After escaping from the dark and dismal workhouse where he was born, Oliver finds himself on the mean streets of Victorian-era London and is unwittingly recruited into a scabrous gang of scheming urchins. In this band of petty thieves Oliver encounters the extraordinary and vibrant characters who have captured readers’ imaginations for more than 150 years: the loathsome Fagin, the beautiful and tragic Nancy, the crafty Artful Dodger, and perhaps one of the greatest villains of all time—the terrifying Bill Sikes.

The slice: the first chapter

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

Words cannot describe how much I love this sentence. It’s one of my favorite first lines ever and it pulled me in immediately the first time I read it. I’m actually not a big fan of Oliver Twist (it’s a good book but it’s not one of my favorites), but the first chapter is one of the best openings that I’ve ever read.

And imagine how boring it could have been, if Dickens gave us the information that he declares as unimportant in the first line. If I knew the name of the city and the date on which Oliver was born, I wouldn’t have been so into the book from the start, but he says it doesn’t matter and oh, why say ‘a child was born’, when you can say ‘item of mortality’, and suddenly I’m all in.

The first chapter of Oliver Twist is called Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was born and of the circumstances attending his birth and I absolutely love the long and descriptive names of chapters that Dickens uses. I’m always happier when a book has actual names for chapters instead of just numbers – it’s more fun and if I’m looking for a specific part of the book, it’s much easier this way.

The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter.

If there are two ways to write something, Dickens will pick the longer one. So many writers could not get away with this – I have wondered quite a few times why some author choose to go on and on instead of getting to the point. In this book, I love it.

What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once—a parish child—the orphan of a workhouse—the humble, half-starved drudge—to be cuffed and buffeted through the world—despised by all, and pitied by none.

Dickens is full of criticism for society and its treatment of poor people and especially poor children. The first chapter describes Oliver being born, his mother dying immediately after, and the two people who happen to be around, the nurse and the surgeon, obviously don’t have much interest in his well-being. Everything points to Oliver having a horrible future.

The story of Oliver Twist’s birth is not funny, but I can’t read it without a grin on my face. It’s been years since I’ve read the whole book, but I’ve read the beginning so many times 🙂