The Giver Questions and Answers
by Lois Lowry

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In The Giver, does Jonas go to Elsewhere?

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Emma Black eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jonas’s understanding of Elsewhere changes over the course of The Giver, and author Lois Lowry is not explicit as to which version of Elsewhere Jonas reaches in the end. He may have made it to a place he’s experienced only in memories, or he may have died trying to get there.

Elsewhere is initially unknowable to Jonas, whose entire concept of the world is limited to his community and the few he’s visited on field trips. He knows the journey to Elsewhere begins with a Ceremony of Release. He assumes Elsewhere befits the individual, that newchildren go to live in communities that are similar to his, and that the old go somewhere serene. As he progresses in his training, however, Jonas’s understanding of Elsewhere begins to take two distinct forms. The first is death, a state of being he comes to comprehend through the memories he receives of disease, war, and trauma. He knows that this form of Elsewhere is associated with the Ceremony of Release. The vulnerable members of his community are not being sent anywhere, they are being killed.

Jonas receives memories that create a different form of Elsewhere, too. Here, Elsewhere is the human experience beyond the community’s control. It is a place where emotions and individuality are tolerated, and a diversity of relationships, activities, and interests are encouraged. It is also a place where personal freedoms can lead to terrible events, from heartbreak to crime, pain, and loss. It becomes possible that Jonas’s world, his community, is only a small part of the real world. When he leaves his community, this is the Elsewhere he hopes to find.

Do you think he does? Although there are sequels that answer the question for you, they are not important to your interpretation of The Giver. In the final chapters, hope is running out for Jonas. He’s transmitted the last of his warmth to Gabriel, and they are both starving. As his body begins to fail, he’s soothed by memories of his parents, sister, and friends. Is his life flashing before his eyes, or is he relying on his own memories to sustain him? Suddenly, the happiest memory he was given is right in front of him: a sled, a family, and a Christmas tree. He hears music, “[b]ut perhaps it was only an echo” (133). Has the memory become a reality, or is it fading (like an echo) as it leaves him?

As you look over the book’s final page, consider how Lowry blurs the past and present. Why do you think she chose to leave the ending ambiguous? Consider what Jonas's departure for Elsewhere means to his community. If he is gone and the memories are released, does it matter which Elsewhere he reaches?

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At the end of the book, it is safe to assume he reaches Elsewhere. We are never told what Elsewhere looks like, so we have to make this assumption based on other details we do know.

It has taken Jonas days to travel from his community, the search planes are no longer flying overhead, he and Gabriel have passed through several types of landscapes and weather that do not appear within their community, and the house they finally are headed towards has Christmas lights (his community doesn't have these). All of these details lead us to believe he has reached a place different than his own community and not like the surrounding (yet similar) communities in his area - so we think he has reached Elsewhere.

 

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