March 2004

Chris Zammarelli

banned bookslut

God Is Not Pleased With You

Lois Lowry was once accused of being the antichrist. Personally, I'd take that as high praise. However, I'm not sure one Mrs. Eleanor K. Ramsey was being complimentary.

She made the accusation in an article called Antichrist Teachings Infiltrate Parochial and Public Grammar Schools. In it, she detailed why Lowry's Newberry Award-winning book The Giver is in "service to Lucifer."

Mrs. Ramsey first read the novel after her daughter was assigned to read it at the Corpus Christi School in Mobile, AL. While reading it, she was angered to see that pregnant women were not well-regarded in the futuristic society Lowry described. In addition, she was upset that the would-be utopia limited the number of children families can have, and that parents were driven to kill unwanted children by the said regulation. Also, she didn't like that the government was run by feminists.

In response, Mrs. Ramsey unsuccessfully tried to get The Giver removed from the school's reading list, as detailed in a letter to the school's parish priest.

She is not alone in her disgust. The Giver was the 14th most frequently challenged book between 1990 and 2000.

Around the same time as Mrs. Ramsey's challenge, parents of two students at Windsor Elementary School in Loves Park, IL, challenged the presence of The Giver on the sixth grade reading list. Superintendent John Hurley told the Rockford (IL) Register Star, "The family feels the 'society of sameness' described in the book is being held up as an ideal."

David Trosch, an ultra-conservative Catholic priest, runs the Life Enterprises Unlimited website, which published Mrs. Ramsey's article. He wrote, "[The Giver] is written for mentally careless or untrained people, especially children, that can be easily led astray if the content does not bring attention to unresolvable problems." There's a certain irony to that statement.

Lowry noted in The (Bloomington, IL) Pantagraph that she purposefully made the community in The Giver alluring. What those who challenge the book never note is that ultimately Jonas, the novel's main character, rebels against what he realizes is a horrible society.

The warning against the novel's totalitarian utopia has not been lost in Germany, whose public schools Lowry said use The Giver "as a way of introducing them to the study of their own country's history, of presenting totalitarianism and its seduction."

One passage that is particularly controversial is the infanticide scene, in which Jonas discovers his father killed a baby that was over quota. "That is taken as promoting euthanasia," she told the Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin. She later told the Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette, "...such criticism is missing the point that the scene is trying to make."

"I just always wish the parents would read the book in full before they challenge it," she said in an interview with the Boston Globe.

In addition to being called the antichrist, Lowry was once told in a letter by an angry mother, "God is not pleased with you." She takes such attacks in stride, even showing an audience at a discussion about book banning in Holden, MA, a headline that read, "Blume, Lowry Novels as Corrupt as Playboy." "...I think adults are frightened by having it called to their attention that kids have anything to do with sexuality or violence," she told the Journal-Bulletin, adding that those topics are "the two things that they most fear in my books, and which have made some of my books the most offensive in the United States."

It comes as no surprise, then, the adults who challenge The Giver underestimate their kids' ability to grasp Lowry's message. Steve Arney wrote in an article for The Pantagraph that many teenagers he talked to about the novel saw "benefits of security that Jonas' world affords, but they wouldn't be willing to surrender freedom for it."

Come to think of it, maybe Mrs. Ramsey's take on the book's worldview is closer to reality than I thought. Except for that part about the feminists.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Laure Leaf
ISBN: 0440237688
208 Pages