What disturbing aspects of Jonas's society are revealed in the first few chapters of Lois Lowry's The Giver? What negative effects might living in this society have on people?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are definitely several disturbing pieces of information we learn about Jonas's community in the early chapters of Lois Lowry's The Giver.

One disturbing aspect is the understanding that outsiders are completely unwelcome. We see this aspect illustrated through the jet that mistakenly flies over the community. The community apparently frequently sees cargo planes land to bring supplies but never jets. As soon as the jet is seen, the people of the community are instructed via loudspeaker to abandon their bicycles and take cover in the nearest building. Soon, it is explained the pilot had gone off course; it is further announced, "NEEDLESS TO SAY, HE WILL BE RELEASED" (p. 2). Release, we learn, is a "terrible punishment" in which individuals are exiled from the community and left to fend for themselves, which as far as the community knows, essentially leads to being starved to death.

Another troubling aspect we learn about the community is its elders have such control over the individuals of the community that they even control word choices. For example, we are told of the story in which Jonas's friend Asher apologizes for arriving late to class one day by saying he had felt "distraught" watching the fishermen separate the salmon and is commanded instead to use the word "distracted." However, if Asher had been contemplating that separating salmon meant life or death for the salmon, then feeling "distraught" should certainly be a justifiable feeling he is entitled to.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first few chapters of The Giver, the reader is exposed to Jonas's restrictive, controlling society that focuses on conformity and stability. The reader learns that every household in the community is only allowed two children and that the Committee of Elders assign spouses. Jonas's community is completely structured to the point that only fifty children are born each year, and everyone is assigned occupations at the age of twelve. The commands through the loudspeaker are also unsettling and reveal the seriousness of obeying community rules at all times. In Chapter 1, there is an announcement that the pilot who accidentally flew the jet over the community will be "released." Jonas also recalls a time when he was chastised by the Speaker for hoarding snacks after he took an apple with him out of the designated eating area. This faceless authority and the insistence on following the rules seem ominous and reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.

The reader once again encounters the term "release" during Jonas's experience volunteering at the House of the Old, which suggests that the term might be a euphemism for death. Overall, Jonas's society is depicted as an extremely structured, organized society where individual rights and freedoms are virtually non-existent. Citizens are not free to make independent decisions, and the Committee of Elders is responsible for deciding a person's most important life choices.