Gathering Blue


Lois Lowry

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Gathering Blue Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry was born in Hawaii, the second of three children. Her father was an army dentist whose work led him to move his family around the country. In 1939, for instance, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, and in 1942, when her father was deployed to the Pacific for World War II, the family moved to Pennsylvania. As a girl, Lowry spent two years in Japan, where she attended junior high school. She attended high school in New York, and at the age of 19, she married a military officer, Donald Lowry. During their early years together, the Lowries lived in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Florida. It was only in the 1960s, when Donald settled into a career as a lawyer, that they settled in Maine. Here, Lowry raised four children while also completing a degree in English. At the age of 40, Lowry published her first book, A Summer to Die, a children’s story inspired by Lowry’s experience dealing with her older sister’s death from cancer. The novel was a commercial success. It was also in this year that Lowry divorced her husband. Lowry continued to care for her children and write a large number of children’s books throughout the 1980s and 90s. These included Number the Stars (1989) and The Giver (1993), both of which won her the Newbery Medal, the highest honor for children’s literature. She followed The Giver, a dystopian fable, with three loosely connected sequels: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012). It’s been noted that Lowry’s books for children address unusually adult subject matter. Gathering Blue, for instance, includes infanticide, murder, kidnapping, and cannibalism. Lowry continues give large numbers of lectures and interviews.
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Historical Context of Gathering Blue

It’s both very easy and very hard to relate Gathering Blue to historical events. On one hand, it’s a work of science fiction: there are very few specific allusions to history, since the world Lowry portrays isn’t our own. On the other hand, the telling of history is crucial to the society in Lowry’s book: the annual Gathering ceremony centers around the performance of a long Song of Ruin, a kind of oral history of the world, moving from the origins of a civilization to its decline, and then on to the birth of a new civilization. When Kira studies the Singer’s robe, she sees buildings engulfed in fire. Lowry, whose father served in the military in World War II, may have been thinking of the great cities that were destroyed during the battles of the 1940s: Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Berlin, etc. In a similar vein, it’s possible that Lowry was thinking of Fascist Germany when she wrote Gathering Blue: like Germany under Hitler, the village exterminates those who are sick, deformed, or weak. (Lowry also wrote a children’s novel about the Holocaust, Number the Stars).

Other Books Related to Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue is a dystopia, meaning that it portrays an evil, unjust society. With this in mind, many elements of Lowry’s fictional society, the village, appear in other famous dystopias. In 1984, by George Orwell, for instance, the authoritarian Party controls society by closely monitoring all information, including artistic work, thereby ensuring that the only “vision of the future” is one that the Party approves of—nearly the same is true of the Council of Guardians in Gathering Blue. Another dystopia worth mentioning is Lowry’s own The Giver, which describes a society that’s corrupt in very different ways. One common trait of both societies, however, is their readiness to kill children they perceive to be unhealthy or weak. Finally, Gathering Blue is a coming-of-age novel, and borrows many tropes of this genre, the Bildungsroman: the orphaned protagonist, the false father figure, the second, “true” father, the conflict between creativity and society, etc. While there are hundreds of important novels that fit the pattern of the Bildungsroman, arguably the first is Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
Key Facts about Gathering Blue
  • Full Title: Gathering Blue
  • Where Written: Portland, Maine
  • When Published: October, 2000
  • Literary Period: The “Young Adult Renaissance” of the 90s and 2000s.
  • Genre: Science-fiction / Fantasy
  • Setting: A village in the future, after some apocalyptic event
  • Climax: The return of Christopher, Kira’s father
  • Antagonist: Jamison, the Council of Guardians
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for Gathering Blue

Nice going, Hollywood: Lois Lowry’s most famous book is The Giver. In 2014, the inevitable happened: Hollywood announced that it was adapting the book for the big screen. Lowry was largely uninvolved in the film’s production, but she was rumored to have told the film’s director, “Don’t turn this into another teenage romance.” Ultimately, the film was widely criticized for featuring a tedious subplot about a teenage romance. They should have listened.

Top honors: Though Lowry hasn’t published a book since 2012, she’s continued to receive many prestigious awards and honors. In 2014, she was awarded an honorary degree from Brown University in recognition of her impressive achievements as a writer.