The Giver Questions and Answers
by Lois Lowry

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In The Giver, are people in the community allowed to read or have access to books?

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The only books most members of the community have are rule books or instruction books.

Jonas has schoolbooks and every dwelling has rule books.  However, no one has access to regular books except The Giver.

The community’s main book is called the Book of Rules.  It seems to contain all of the rules required of citizens in the community.  There are many rules, as there is a rule for just about everything.  Violating the rules results in punishment, and breaking three rules results in release (death).

When Jonas first begins his training as Receiver of Memory, he notices right away that there are books in The Receiver’s house—there are a lot of books.

But the most conspicuous difference was the books. In his own dwelling, there were the necessary reference volumes that each household contained: a dictionary, and the thick community volume which contained descriptions of every office, factory, building, and committee. And the Book of Rules, of course. (Ch. 10)

The community has no memory beyond one generation, so books would be a problem in enforcing Sameness.  They do not want people to know what happened before.  If there were books, past events and knowledge would be recorded.  The community wants to control access to information.

When Jonas first sees the books, he can’t imagine what all of these books could contain.

Jonas stared at them. He couldn't imagine what the thousands of pages contained. Could there be rules beyond the rules that governed the community? Could there be more descriptions of offices and factories and committees? (Ch. 10)

Jonas learns later that the books contain the community’s history.  They are also multicolored, which would not mean anything to anyone other than the people who can See Beyond.  The Giver explains that books are forbidden to citizens.  This is one of the reasons that the Receiver of Memory lives alone, apart from the rest of the community.  The books, Jonas learns, contain “the knowledge of centuries.”

When Jonas asks about release, The Giver explains again that he has access to everything the community has hidden.

"Jonas, when you and I have finished our time together, you will be the new Receiver. You can read the books; you'll have the memories. You have access to everything. It's part of your training. If you want to watch a release, you have simply to ask." (Ch. 19)

The books are symbolic of the distinction between Jonas and the other members of the community.  As long as Jonas is the Receiver, he is separate and apart.  He has access to memories and information that the rest of the community members do not have.  He learns the truth about the community.

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