Coming of Age
A key characteristic of the particular community Lowry has created is the annual ritual in December when each year group, en masse, is declared one year older and given commensurate privileges and/or responsibilities. At the age of three, all children begin participating in the daily routine of "dreamtelling"—the requirement that, at the breakfast table, they describe the dreams they have had the previous night. It is also the age at which, educationally, the correct use of language is inculcated, regardless of individual development or speech skills. (Asher, who has specific problems with what educationists now call "word retrieval," has a good deal of trouble with this regime.) Up to the age of six, children wear jackets which fasten at the back. When they become seven they are given a front-fastening costume, as a mark of increasing independence. At the age of eight their "comfort object" is taken away. They are given another new jacket, this time with pockets: to indicate that they are now considered responsible enough to look after small belongings. And they must begin doing voluntary service outside of school hours. At the age of nine, girls remove their hair ribbons, and all children receive their own bicycle. At ten both boys and girls have their hair ceremoniously cut, and at eleven boys are given long trousers and girls "new undergarments."
But by far the most important rite of passage, and the one Jonas is in a permanent state of anxiety about in the early part of the book, is connected with becoming Twelve. This is the last time children are actively involved in the annual ceremony. After twelve, age is not considered important. Twelve is the age at which childhood is left behind, and an individual's adult calling is decided. Jonas is anxious because he has no idea what that calling is to be. It will be decided by the Elders and announced by the Chief Elder at the Ceremony.
There are two more Rites of Passage unrelated to age. They relate to Sex and Death.
Procreation is a purely mechanical affair in the community. If a girl is selected at the age of twelve to become a "Birthmother," she will eventually spend three years at the Birthing Center, giving birth to three babies The babies are not brought up by their natural mothers but allocated to volunteer parents. No details are given as to the practical means of fathering children, but it is most likely to be by artificial insemination, since all sexual longing is eradicated at puberty, at the first sign of erotic dreaming. Indeed, the main purpose of "dreamtelling" is revealed to be the monitoring of "Stirrings"—the term given to sexual desire. When Jonas confesses one morning to an erotic dream, he is immediately prescribed a daily pill to purge such stirrings. Later in the book, when he stops taking this pill, it is a sign to the reader of open rebellion.
The community refers to Death, euphemistically, as Release. The young are allowed to take this literally, believing that those "Released" are simply choosing to leave the community and go "Elsewhere." Release is the final Rite of Passage. A ceremony is held, which includes a "telling of the life," a toast, an anthem, a good-bye speech from the individual to be released (where appropriate), some farewell speeches from those who know him or her, then a walk through the door to the Releasing Room.
Not only the old enter the Releasing Room. Any infants that do not thrive are also sent there, as are persistent transgressors against the community's petty codes. Jonas eventually sees a video recording of what happens in the Releasing Room and discovers that the room is the scene of sordid executions. Individuals are given a lethal injection and their bodies disposed of down a garbage chute. His father's jaunty participation in the execution of an infant twin is particularly shocking.
The horrible truth of what goes on behind the door of the Releasing Room underpins any of the positive constructs defenders of the community might wish to put forward. Its social cohesion, its emphasis on law and order, its insistence that children develop at the same pace—all these are dependent upon infanticide, enforced euthanasia, and a justice system which administers the death penalty without qualm.
The community's weather is unvarying. Regulated by "Climate Control," it is in an unfluctuating state of "Sameness," so that amongst the first memories passed on to Jonas by the Giver are the memories of snow and sunshine. The grey, climatic "sameness" is an objective correlative of the community's strict regulation of difference and variety in all walks of life. The system of Assignments pays some regard to the temperamental and attitudinal differences between children. Observed through the early years of life, they are usually given an assignment that tallies with their chosen hobbies or...
(The entire section is 2021 words.)