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The answer to this question can be found in Chapter Twenty-One of this great dystopian novel. Although Jonas is planning on leaving at some point, we see that in this chapter his hand is forced and he has to leave a lot more quickly than he thought he would. The reason for this swift departure is that Jonas was told by his father that Gabriel is going to be "released" the next day. Of course, now Jonas is aware of the more sinister meaning of this word, which is particularly highlighted in the following quote:
"It's bye-bye to you, Gabe, in the morning," Father said, in his sweet, sing-song voice.
Note how the real meaning of the "release" is again masked by the "sweet" voice of the father of Jonas. This of course means that Jonas has to leave that very evening to escape and take Gabriel to a place of safety. Thus Jonas leaves his home and his town because he wants to save Gabriel's life.
Jonas’s decision to leave begins when he and The Giver start to explore what would happen to the community if he left. In chapter 18, Jonas asks what would happen if he was in an accident. They have discussed the pain the community went through when Rosemary was released and the memories were returned to the community. Jonas notes that he has many more memories than Rosemary had at the time of her release, so the chaos that resulted would be greatly magnified.
The Giver becomes thoughtful, and replies, “If you floated down the river, I suppose I could help the whole community the way I’ve helped you. It’s an interesting concept. I need to think about it some more” (145). This is the first time that Jonas leaving becomes a possibility.
When Jonas views the video of his father killing the newchild in chapter 19, he has a violent reaction. For the first time, he realizes how terribly wrong things are in his community. He begins to believe that the only way they can recover and regain their humanity is by recovering their memories. This means that not only can Jonas leave, but he has to in order to save them from themselves. The Giver tells Jonas, “They can’t help it. They know nothing. … It’s the life they live. The one that was created for them” (152). Jonas considers whether or not it is their responsibility to fix this. When Jonas asks The Giver why they should care about the community’s lack of humanity, he realizes that, “of course they had to care. It was the meaning of everything” (156).
Jonas is excited about the plan, and he and The Giver continue to work on it. But in chapter 21, Jonas learns that Gabriel is scheduled to be released. He cannot allow this to happen, especially since he has been giving memories to Gabe. The plan has to be moved up, and Jonas escapes before he is completely ready.
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