The Giver Summary
When Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver opens, December is coming and Jonas is confused about his feelings. He does not feel frightened.
He felt frightened once before, a year ago when a jet flew over the community. Everyone in the community had seen planes pick up and drop off cargo, but a needle-nosed jet was something out of the ordinary. Every member of the community stopped to watch the jet and wait for instructions. Before long, a voice announced via loudspeaker that everyone should take cover in a nearby building. Obediently, everyone in the community got off of their bicycles and entered a nearby building. The stillness of the waiting community made Jonas feel frightened.
The voice quickly returned to announce that the jet pilot made a simple navigational mistake. For this infraction, it was announced, he would be “released” from the community. The people found this reassuring, though it certainly was not good news for the pilot. Release from the community is the worst thing that can happen, unless the person is old and the release is a celebration of that person's accomplishments in life. At school, students who joke about release are dealt with sternly.
Jonas notes that it is important to use the correct words to describe his feelings. He recalls an incident in which his friend, Asher, arrived to school late. He apologized to his community and explained that he felt distraught watching fishermen separate salmon. However, although the class automatically accepted his apology, Jonas’s teacher explained that distraught is too strong a word to use when describing this experience; a better word would be distracted.
Considering his year's group, Jonas finally realizes that all of the Elevens feel similar about December, and it strikes him that he feels “apprehensive.”
Emotions are a confusing topic, so Jonas is fortunate that his family shares their feelings...
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Jonas’s parents attempt to reassure him about the Ceremony of Twelve. His father explains that it is natural to feel apprehension, but he also points out that Jonas usually enjoys the ceremony. It is true that Jonas enjoys watching the ceremony, especially the naming.
Jonas’s father is a Nurturer, and he shares his own experiences related to the ceremony. When he was young, Jonas’s father had a pretty good idea of what his assignment would be. Although he had participated in bicycle races with other boys, he had spent most of his volunteer hours in the childcare center. Jonas and his mother are surprised to hear that Jonas’s father had been so confident of his assignment, but he admits that he still felt apprehension during the ceremony. In fact, he had only really paid attention to his younger sister, a Nine, who received her bicycle that year.
It is against the rules to ride a bicycle before becoming a Nine, but Jonas’s father admits that he had been teaching his sister to ride a bicycle before the ceremony. This is such a common infraction that some people have proposed lowering the age at which children can ride bicycles. A committee has begun to look into the matter, which means that the rule will likely not be changed. The Elders rarely agree to change a rule, and when they do it is only after an extended period of deliberation. Sometimes, they will consult the Receiver, the most important of the Elders, but usually the rules remain unchanged. Still, everyone trusts the Elders to make good decisions for the community, even for boys like Jonas’s friend Asher. Asher is always focused on having fun but has few other interests.
Jonas’s mother shares her own experiences related to the Ceremony of Twelve. One thing that Jonas should be preparing himself for is the change in his education. Up to this point, he has been given a lot of time for recreation with his friends. Now he will be asked to devote more of...
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Recently, Jonas’s father has been concerned for one of the children in his care who is not developing fast enough. If the struggling male does not develop more quickly, he may be released. This is always a sad decision that will leave the community wondering what could have been. Jonas’s father has even looked up the child’s assigned name, though it is still unofficial. The child is Gabriel, or Gabe, as Jonas’s father likes to call him, and his “comfort object” is a strange creature called a “hippo.” Jonas’s father is bringing Gabe home with him temporarily in the hopes that some extra attention will help him develop.
Lily notices that Gabe’s eyes are strange in the same way that Jonas’s are. Both of the children have light colored eyes, whereas the majority of the community has darker eyes. Jonas is annoyed at Lily’s comment, which is not against the rules but is insensitive because people in the community rarely mention things that can be “unsettling.” He reflects that Lily’s insensitive chatter will soon result in a chastisement or perhaps a public announcement meant to embarrass her in front of her peers.
Public announcements are made to remind everyone of the rules, but they are often directed at a single person. Jonas recalls with embarrassment a time when he was the intended audience of a public announcement. He had been throwing an apple back and forth with his friend Asher, but he noticed that the apple changed somehow in midair. After several throws, he noticed the anomaly again, though Asher had noticed nothing. When Jonas took the apple home for further study, a public announcement was made reminding people to not take goods from the recreation area and to not hoard food.
Jonas reflects that the announcers always speak in a self-important tone. Perhaps this is the assignment that would be best for Lily. She is always talking, even now when Gabe is sleeping. However, Lily is just excited about the new child in their house. A family unit can only have two children, so Gabe is a temporary addition. Still, Gabe’s presence leads Lily to wonder aloud whether she should become a birthmother.
Lily’s mother rebukes her for considering adopting the life of a birthmother. Birthmothers carry little respect. Although they are pampered for a few years, after they have given birth to three children they are assigned hard labor until they are old. Jonas’s father suggests that she consider being a Nurturer instead because then she would get to spend time with infants instead of simply delivering them.
Jonas is riding his bicycle down the streets of his community. The Celebration of Twelve is nearly upon him, and he has resolved to spend his last volunteer hours near his friend Asher. Jonas does not always choose to spend his volunteer hours with his friend because Asher sometimes struggles to take things seriously. Jonas reflects that he has experienced a little of everything in the community through volunteer work.
Some children are different. Benjamin, for example, spends almost all his time in the Rehabilitation Center. He has spent so much time there that he has even developed new techniques for helping people recover after their injuries. Although Jonas would never compliment Benjamin on his skills because it...
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When Jonas’s family unit finishes supper, each member of the unit shares their difficult emotions from the day. The routine brings the family together, and it also allows Jonas’s parents to monitor the development of their children, not to mention guiding them through difficult times. The family follows a similar routine each morning after breakfast. Instead of sharing their emotions, this time they share their dreams.
As always, young Lily insists on going first. She shares her dream in a long, drawn-out way that allows her to be the focus of attention. Jonas’s mother has had troubling dreams in which she worries that she has broken an obscure rule, which every member of the family agrees likely has resulted from...
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Life in Jonas’s community is carefully structured and regulated. When change comes, it is often symbolic and illustrates an important lesson. As the sixth chapter of The Giver opens, Jonas’s mother is tying ribbons into Lily’s hair, which the young Seven dislikes. Lily craves to be independent and adult, and she is very pleased that today is the last day she has to wear ribbons. Jonas has also been looking forward to this day, the Ceremony of Twelve.
Unfortunately for Lily, she is still not old enough to be assigned a bicycle. Still, Jonas reminds her, every year brings changes. This year she receives her jacket with buttons on the front; until their seventh year, children wear jackets with buttons in the...
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As the community members return to their seats in the Auditorium, the Ceremony of Twelve begins. Jonas and Asher have felt apprehensive about this moment for a long time, but as with all things, it is a carefully regulated ceremony with many specific traditions and expectations. The Chief Elder explains that childhood in their community is about learning to fit in and conform. During the Ceremony of Twelve, the community acknowledges differences by looking at what people should do to contribute to the community. Some people enjoy labor, some enjoy caring for others, and still others have an aptitude for science.
After this preamble, the Ceremony of Twelve begins. Each Twelve is called to the stage to receive his or her...
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It seems that the Chief Elder has decided not to assign Jonas a job within the community. Every other new Twelve has received his or her assignment, but the entire community feels uneasy at Jonas’s omission. The Chief Elder explains that a mistake has not been made. Nevertheless, she apologizes for the unease everyone has felt, and the community accepts her apology. She next apologizes to Jonas specifically, and he also accepts her apology. Jonas notices that these assurances assuage the concerns of the community.
The Chief Elder explains that Jonas has not been given an assignment. Instead, he has been selected to take on a great burden on behalf of the community. Jonas has been selected for training as the Receiver...
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Jonas has been selected for training as a Receiver of Memory. It is the most important role in the entire community, but its unusual nature sets the Receiver apart. This “apartness” can be very isolating. Although Jonas has only just been told of his selection, he already notices that people respond to him differently. Even Lily is noticeably subdued around Jonas now. When Jonas asks Asher to ride home together, his old friend now seems to hesitate before speaking. Although Asher’s constant cheer can still be felt, it seems to come after a hesitation.
At home, Lily’s youthful excitement returns, and she is already planning what she will do now that she is allowed to volunteer around the community. She will start...
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Jonas’s training is to take place at an Annex attached to the House of the Old. He and Fiona arrive at the House of the Old together and comment on how different life seems now that they are Twelves. The nameplates on their bicycles have been changed overnight, and although Fiona has reported to the House of the Old many times, today feels different. They agree to ride home together if their training ends at the same time.
The Annex is a nondescript building, and Jonas announces his arrival into a speaker next to the door. Inside, he is greeted by a woman who explains that Jonas has nothing to be afraid of, though the Receiver does not like to be kept waiting. She unlocks the door so Jonas can proceed to meet the...
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To receive memories, Jonas removes his shirt and lies facedown on a bed. The Elder puts his hands on Jonas’s back and begins to transmit the memory. This transmission includes concepts like snow, sledding, and hills. At first, Jonas can only sense coldness, but the memory takes on additional dimensions over time. Suddenly, Jonas is experiencing snow and the excitement of sledding down a hill. When his mind returns to the Annex room, he is quite enthusiastic about the experience. The process has not been so easy for the Elder, who wipes sweat from his brow as he reflects that he feels a little lighter without the memory. When these memories are transmitted, the Elder loses them forever, though he does have many memories of snow....
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It is the second day of Jonas’s training as the Receiver of Memory. He has been instructed not to share his dreams with others, but he is still uneasy with the idea that it is permissible for him to lie. It comes as a relief to Jonas that his mother does not ask whether he dreamt but rather whether he slept soundly the night before. It is no lie to admit that he did sleep soundly; it is only an omission to not say he dreamt. Meanwhile, Gabe is fitting in well with the family, though he has been sleeping rather fretfully in comparison to the others.
At school, classes continue as usual for Jonas and his peers. However, the Twelves are all now quite eager to share how their first day of training was with each other....
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Jonas has begun to see colors, though he just as often sees the Sameness. Still, the Giver assures him, he will eventually be able to see color permanently. Jonas balks at the idea that people are not allowed to see color because it is not fair. When the Giver asks Jonas to explain what is not fair, Jonas struggles to explain but eventually settles on the notion of choice. People should be allowed to choose what color shirt they wear in the morning. At home, Gabriel should be allowed to choose his comfort object. However, what if people were allowed to choose their mates—or, even more outrageously, their jobs? Choosing a shirt is harmless enough, but Jonas quickly realizes that there is a great danger in incorrect choices. People...
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Jonas has asked to experience a painful memory, and the Giver relents, reasoning that he cannot protect Jonas from them forever. They return to sledding, but this memory is slightly different. Once more, Jonas experiences being at the top of a hill with a sled, but this time there is less snow. The surface of the hill is slick and icy. As Jonas experiences sledding down a hill, he suddenly experiences a loss of control followed by a feeling of pain so agonizing that he vomits. Back in the Annex room, Jonas asks for medication, but the Giver denies it. The rules clearly state that Jonas cannot apply for relief from pain that comes as part of his training. That night, Jonas limps home as he endures the pain of the memory.
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Sometimes when Jonas meets with the Giver for training, the Elder is suffering from the pain of the memories that he alone carries on behalf of his community. When Jonas enters the Giver’s room today, the Elder is clearly suffering. On days such as this, Jonas is sent home, but before he leaves today, he asks if there is any way he can help. The Giver, desperate for release, asks Jonas to take on some of the pain. Jonas helps the Giver to his chair, then removes his tunic and lies on the bed to receive another painful memory. It is a memory of war.
The air smells foul, and there is tremendous noise. Men are lying everywhere on a field, groaning with pain. A horse moves among them before it falls—and does not rise...
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After receiving the memory of warfare, Jonas is reluctant to return to receive memories from the Giver again. However, the decision is not his; Jonas has been selected. Warfare is awful, but the Giver is quick to point out that there are many good memories. Jonas recalls birthday parties, which celebrate individuality, and museums that celebrate beautiful artwork. Jonas asks about the Giver’s favorite memory. He is surprised when the Giver transmits his favorite memory to Jonas. It is a scene with people of all ages—children, parents, and an older couple as well—gathered around a tree, which is indoors and decorated with red and green lights. People are cooking nearby. Others are exchanging presents. When Jonas returns from...
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A surprise holiday is announced at the start of the seventeenth chapter, and Jonas is thrilled. He no longer finds school as meaningful as it once was for him. However, a surprise holiday is great news for everyone, not just Jonas. His parents have the day off as well. As always, the community has planned carefully, and substitute workers take care of Nurturing and Food Production. They will be given a holiday on another day.
Riding his bicycle, Jonas sets off to find his friends, Asher and Fiona. He reflects that since he stopped taking the pill that prevents the Stirrings, pleasurable but embarrassing dreams have returned. Moreover, Jonas notices that the way he feels emotions has changed. Language in the community is...
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After hearing Lily speculate about release and Elsewhere, Jonas asks the Giver about the same topic—though the questions are not so idle coming from the young Receiver in Training. When Jonas asks the Giver whether he ever thinks about applying for release, the Giver explains that he is not allowed to do so until he has trained a successor. Jonas shares that he is not allowed to apply for release, but the Giver already knows this. He explains that the rule was put in place after the disaster ten years before.
Jonas inquires about the previous Receiver in Training with whom the Giver worked. The Giver is reluctant to share. He explains that the memories are painful because he loved the previous Receiver in Training,...
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Jonas apologizes to the Giver for having wasted so much of their time on questions about release. Jonas explains that part of the reason he is curious about release is that his father is going to release a twin today. Actually, Jonas reflects, it probably happened this morning. Although Jonas is curious about release, he has a pretty good idea of what happens. His father will weigh the twins and release the lighter of the two. The child will be cleaned and comforted and released to Elsewhere. What happens then is the subject of Lily’s imaginings.
Jonas is surprised when the Giver says he wishes the community would not release twins. Jonas is quick to defend his community, suggesting that it would be very confusing to...
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Jonas has watched his father release an infant, and now he knows that release means kill. His father’s job is to kill children and Fiona’s job is to kill the elderly. Something in Jonas is torn by this experience, and he cries and lashes out against the Giver, declaring that he will never go back to his family. The Giver agrees to let Jonas stay in the Annex room with him. He has his assistant notify Jonas’s family unit. She readily agrees to help out, and Jonas sarcastically mocks her compliance.
Eventually, the Giver manages to help Jonas to calm down, reminding the young Receiver that no one in the community is capable of feeling anything about what they do. Together, they work out a plan for...
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In spite of all the careful plans he made with the Giver to take advantage of the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas ends up leaving early. The Giver would likely have been able to offer Jonas a great deal of help, but the young Receiver is forced to make do without it.
While Jonas was staying with the Giver, Jonas’s father allowed Gabriel to return to the care center. The infant fussed and squabbled all night, greatly irritating the Nurturers. The next day, even Jonas’s father was forced to agree that the time had come for Gabe’s release, and plans have been made to release the child the next day. Jonas’s father sighs and admits that the community has done everything in its power for Gabe. Jonas’s mother, whose sleep...
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The first memory Jonas received showed him what sledding was and what hills are. In the community, there are no hills because they chose to go to Sameness. Later he learned about rain, another thing that was left behind because of the desire for Sameness. Now Jonas has moved beyond the community’s climate control and uniform landscaping, and he discovers the reality of the problems that hills pose. For one thing, riding the bicycle has become much more difficult and dangerous. The ground is no longer smooth, and Jonas soon falls off his bicycle. As a child, he scraped his knees, but now he injures his ankle and only finds relief by putting it into a nearby pond.
There are other challenges now that Jonas has entered a...
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Jonas and Gabriel are starving, and now things are getting worse. A swirling snowstorm has started. Although Jonas tells Gabriel that snow is beautiful, it is of little help to the two fugitives. Still, Jonas feels that Elsewhere is nearby. None of his senses confirm it and there are no sounds ahead, but Jonas feels certain that he is close to his destination. Up to this point, Elsewhere has been a place of mystery. For all Jonas knows, it may well be, as Lily speculates, a world of twins. Regardless of what it is, Jonas is desperate to reach a world of light and warmth. He and Gabe will die of starvation and exposure soon.
The snow is mounting, and ahead of them, Jonas sees a hill. Jonas’s feet and legs are numb and...
(The entire section is 416 words.)