The Giver by Lois Lowry is about a dystopian future society that is governed by an extensive and strict set of rules. For instance, “it was against the rules for Pilots to fly over the community.” There are also rules against nudity: “And the nakedness, too. It was against the rules for children or adults to look at another’s nakedness; but the rule did not apply to newchildren or the Old.” There are even “rules governing rudeness.”
The rules dictate how one person interacts with others, both in public and within the family unit, and even how families are formed. For instance, within this society, couples no longer marry and bear children together. Children are essentially bred by a group of underclass women whose job is solely to reproduce. The protagonist of the book, Jonas, thinks about the rules and the punishment of release. Lowry writes,
One night at the dinner table, Jonas’ sister Lily recounts her dream, “in which she had, against the rules, been riding her mother’s bicycle and been caught by the Security Guards.”
The family is concerned for Lily. Their mother is intimately involved with the punishments for people who break the rules. Lowry writes,
Next, Mother, who held a prominent position at the Department of Justice, talked about her feelings. Today a repeat offender had been brought before her, someone who had broken the rules before. Someone who she hoped had been adequately and fairly punished, and who had been restored to his place: to his job, his home, his family unit. To see him brought before her a second time caused her overwhelming feelings of frustration and anger. And even guilt, that she hadn’t made a difference in his life.
“I feel frightened, too, for him,” she confessed. “You know that there’s no third chance. The rules say that if there’s a third transgression, he simply has to be released.” Jonas shivered. He knew it happened. There was even a boy in his group of Elevens whose father had been released years before. No one ever mentioned it; the disgrace was unspeakable. It was hard to imagine.“
There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we- have-done. This was especially troubling for the Nurturers, like Father, who felt they had failed somehow. But it happened very rarely.
Moreover, it is difficult to change the rules. As Jonas notes,
Rules were very hard to change. Sometimes, if it was a very important rule — unlike the one governing the age for bicycles — it would have to go, eventually, to The Receiver for a decision. The Receiver was the most important Elder.
People also do not really recognize what it means to face the consequence of "release." Over the course of the novel, Jonas begins to recognize how harsh the rules are. He realizes how constraining the society is and how it essentially eliminates human individuality.