Community Obedience: Gathering Blue

Seven years after writing The Giver, Lois Lowry wrote a companion volume, Gathering Blue. In it, she explored another future society that, like the one in The Giver, very carefully allocates its workforce and assigns tasks, and, like the one in The Giver, does not hesitate to kill unacceptable members of the community. By “unacceptable,” this community generally means the disabled, the old, those who refuse to work or contribute, and, as young Kira is about to discover, those that stand up against the community leaders. It is a community of codified status. And it is a community that insists on absolute obedience on laws—while not necessarily getting that absolute obedience.

Unlike the community in The Giver, however, no one is under the impression that everything is perfect in their community: they know what death means, refusing to use innocuous words like “release” in its stead, and have mourning rituals for the ones they have lost. They know about illness; as the book starts, Kira’s mother has just died from one. Part of their community lives in a very poor section, called the Fens, where they live by scavenging and trade and very little else. They know about grief. They know about love. And they can see colors. Indeed, this last gift is what keeps Kira alive.

Kira is crippled, walking with a terrible limp. Ordinarily, this would have meant death. Kira’s mother, however, argued to keep her alive, and thanks to the social status of her father, Kira’s grandfather, she was allowed to live, and even to learn how to weave. It helps that she’s been useful, if occasionally disruptive (she tells the other children stories and teaches them games, which distracts them from work), so she is tolerated until her mother’s death. At that point, Kira is dragged in front of the Council of Guardians by an older woman determined to have Kira sent into exile. Instead, the Council, recognizing Kira’s unusual artistic skills, assigns her to an unusual task: repairing and restoring the Singer’s robe.

This is quite a task, since the robe is decorated with the entire history of humanity (I sense a slight exaggeration here, but it is a heavily embroidered piece). It’s used, along with a carefully carved stick, to remind the Singer just how to Sing the Ruin Song, a community ritual that reminds the community of their past. As Jameson adds, the community is also hoping that Kira can restore the empty parts of the robe—thus letting the community know about their future.

Quite beyond weaving and sewing, this also forces Kira to learn a lot about dyes. Their community lacks any advanced technology, including synthetic dyes, so all dyes have to be prepared from scratch—and by scratch, I mean, “planting seeds,” not to mention the boiling and staining and all that. And even with all of this the community has no way to dye blue. Kira is sent off to learn from the local dye expert, Annabella. Her four syllable name lets Kira and readers know she is old and respected: most members of the community only have two or three syllable names. Kira is also given a small suite of very comfortable rooms and top quality food in one of the nicer areas of the community, in the same building as Thomas, a wood artist who carves the stick the Singer uses. Both are pampered, and allowed considerable freedom, as long as they finish their tasks.

That freedom is what allows Kira to start asking questions, and make some uncomfortable discoveries. It also allows her to help old and new friends in the community: Matt, a kind hearted boy from decidedly the wrong side of the community, who has an adorable dog; Thomas, the wood artist; and Jo, a very young child with a singing voice.

Gathering Blue is a companion volume to The Giver not so much because they are set in the same world and place, if with communities who have taken very different approaches to dealing with scarcity and population control, but because they detail similar journeys from innocence to discovery to wisdom. Kira is certainly less ignorant in many ways than Jonas is (it helps that she isn’t brainwashed and drugged), but that doesn’t make her any less aware of just how many lies she’s been told. Learning the truth is as painful for her as it is for Jonas; in some ways, worse, just because of the truth mixed in with her lies. And the two books also deal with the sometimes painful process of finding your place in your community—and leaving your family.

And in the end, both Kira and Jonas decide that they must change their communities—if in very different ways. Well, mostly different. Like Jonas, she also chooses to separate herself from her family, although since her family is not as morally empty, that’s a more painful choice for her. But unlike Jonas, Kira decides that she just might be able to change things from the inside of her community. She does, after all, have a position of some honor and respect, and, unlike Jonas, she has friends. Real friends.

Like Jonas, however, she has psychic powers of some sort—powers she can only wield while weaving, or while holding cloth. It’s not entirely clear what they are, apart from the ability to create new designs and images, or perhaps see the past or the future. But they are enough to make her crave dyes, especially the bright blues, and enough to make her willing to change her world.

Gathering Blue is not quite up to its predecessor, possibly because it’s less shocking, less cold, less clinical. Perhaps as a result of that, this book also as a more dreamlike, less real aspect to it. But this also leads to a book that is a warmer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable read than its predecessor, and read, and it haunted Lowry just enough to make her write another sequel.


Mari Ness doesn’t know how to dye anything, although she loves the color blue. She lives in central Florida.

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