In The Giver, how did Jonas's relationship with his parents and friends change after he received his Life Assignment?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jonas felt apart from his parents and friends after beginning his training.

 Jonas’s training as Receiver of Memory makes him different from everyone else in the community.  Before he was selected, Jonas was just like everyone else in his community.  He did not understand the basic functions of his people, and just followed the rules and went through the motions.  He was a little more reflective, and a little more analytical, but basically just as clueless as everyone else was.

Jonas’s training makes him different and apart from his family and friends, because they have no frame of reference for his experiences.  First of all, he is not allowed to discuss his training.  Second of all, even when he breaks the rules and has interactions with them that are based on his new experiences with the memories, they do not understand.  Jonas has experienced pain, loss, and love through the memories, which are a kind of virtual reality.  He can now feel, while they have never had any real genuine feelings.

Even after it becomes clear to Jonas that the people in his community do not feel as he can, and probably never will, he still pushes them because he wants to share his experiences.  This is the reason why he asks his parents if they love him after a particularly powerful memory. 

He knows that the answer is no, in his heart.  Yet he asks anyway because he wants so badly for it to be yes.  Nevertheless, the answer he gets is not what he expects.  His parents react with amusement, and begin to lecture him on the outdated and unclear nature of his language.  "Precision of language" is very important in the community.  Jonas is reminded to use it.  He seems confused though.

"Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it's become almost obsolete," his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory. (Ch. 16)

Jonas’s parents asks him if he understands, and he lies and says he does.  However, he realizes that they are the ones who do not understand.  Love is not meaningless to him.  It is only meaningless to them, because every emotion is meaningless to them.

Jonas has another experience like this when he confronts Asher about the war games he finds him playing.  Jonas has experienced real war, in the memories.  He can’t watch the war games anymore, because it brings back the pain of real death and suffering.  He tries to explain this to Asher, but from Asher all he gets is confusion.  Asher does not know what he is doing.  He has no idea what real war is.

Asher is hurt and frustrated with Jonas, and it is clear that there is a distance between them since Jonas began training.  Jonas has special authority now that he never had before.

You can't say what we play, even if you are going to be the new Receiver." Asher looked warily at him. "I apologize for not paying you the respect you deserve," he mumbled. (Ch. 17)

Realizing that Asher, who used to be his friend, now feels that he has to respect him, is a blow to Jonas.  Yet Asher is also frustrated with Jonas for usurping what he feels is his authority with the game.  Jonas realizes that the people in the community cannot understand, because they do not have the memories.  Jonas cannot make them understand.

The Giver tells Jonas that being Receiver of Memory is a lonely job.  It is not just because the person is often apart from the community, or because of the huge responsibility of being the community’s history and well of wisdom.  It is because the Receiver is the one person in the community that really feels, and really understands.  For Jonas, The Giver is also there, but if he had continued his training until The Giver finished his job, he would have taken up the responsibility on his own.

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