In The Giver how was Jonas obedient?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jonas is a generally obedient person in The Giver, first following the rules of the community and then later doing his best to be obedient to the Giver, transferring most of his allegiance to the Giver. But once Jonas has begun to receive the Giver's memories and experience the full panoply of emotion, color, and the world outside the community, the notion of obedience becomes more complex.  Obedience is difficult when there are conflicting loyalties, and there are genuine choices to be made.

In the first chapter, we see Jonas' family in the evening ritual of sharing feelings, something he is reluctant about, something he "almost would have preferred"(9) keeping hidden, but he knows he must follow the rules. Jonas even helps others to remain obedient to the rules, as we see in Chapter 4, in which Jonas stays away from conversation with Benjamin, who has many accomplishments to brag about, because bragging is against the rules, and it is "better to steer clear of an occasion governed by a rule that would be so easy to break" (27). 

When Jonas is chosen as the Receiver and reviews his first list of eight instructions and dispensations, he sees that he is permitted to be rude, which would break a firm community rule. A less obedient sort of person might take that as license to be rude as often as possible, but Jonas is relieved that these instructions do not obligate him to be rude to anyone. 

As Jonas goes deeper and deeper into his training as the receiver, while he begins to question everything, his obedience to the Receiver is still strong. For example, even though he knows he is going to be subject to great pain, Jonas willingly receives the Giver's painful memories, including the terrible pain of a broken leg.  He later takes on the terrible pain of war, to give the Giver some relief.

Some disobedience to the Giver comes when he transfers memories to Gabriel, first unconsciously and later deliberately, in clear contravention of the Giver's rules.  Next, he stops taking his pills, which, combined with the memories he now has from the Giver, allows him to feel emotions such as happiness, sadness, and love.  Finally, after observing a Release, Jonas rebels completely, wanting to run away from the community and take the Giver with him.  When the Giver insists he must remain behind and help the community, Jonas leaves for Elsewhere, taking baby Gabriel, breaking the community's most important rules. 

It is easy to be obedient when lacking information and when everything in a society reinforces obedience. It is far more difficult to be obedient when one is permitted to question and one is can make genuine choices based on more complete knowledge.  In the end, as Jonas leaves, he is still obedient to the Giver, in a way that is far more meaningful because it is a genuine choice, and while it would be inaccurate to say he is obedient to the rules of the community at that point, he is acting in a way that is meant to be in the community's best interests.  

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