We learn that people can apply for release, and the elderly are released.
When Jonas gets his assignment, he feels different from the rest of the members of his community for the first time. He has been selected as Receiver of Memory, which is a very special assignment that very rarely comes up. Only people with special abilities can do it. However, as part of his training Jonas will learn some unique things about the community.
No one in the community knows what release really is. They think that a person just goes to somewhere else, to a special place called Elsewhere. This is a really naive viewpoint, but most of the people in the community are incapable of thinking for themselves. At this point in the book, the reader is not sure what release is either.
When Jonas gets his rules for his assignment, Rule 7 is, “You are not permitted to apply for release.” This is a very unusual rule. Why would a person voluntarily apply for release? What does that mean? Jonas reflects on the rule.
He felt no reaction to rule number 7 at all. It had never occurred to him that under any circumstances, ever, he might apply for release. (Ch. 7)
In his experience, Jonas has had no need to apply for release, and no interest in it. At this point in the book, we learn for the first time that a person (except for Jonas) can actually apply for release. Since Jonas has never considered it, it might be something really rare. The reader might wonder at this time why Jonas is being prevented from doing it.
If you started reading the book right here, you might not already know that the Old are released when they reach a certain age where the community has decided that they have lived long enough. After that point, keeping them around is just a waste of resources. You would learn it, though, from The Giver’s comment about his age.
The man smiled. He touched the sagging flesh on his own face with amusement. "I am not, actually, as old as I look," he told Jonas. "This job has aged me. I know I look as if I should be scheduled for release very soon. But actually I have a good deal of time left. (Ch. 10)
Jonas has no reaction to the comment about releasing The Giver because he is old. This is because release of the elderly is a common occurrence, and is not considered unusual, cruel, or odd. Of course, at this point Jonas does not really know what release means.
It will not be until later in the book that Jonas will learn that release means death. When he does learn this, he is shocked and horrified. He realizes that his father has been killing babies, and his friend Fiona has been killing the elderly. He also learns that his predecessor, Rosemary, applied for release. She killed herself. This is the reason for his rule. When the Receiver is released, the memories are returned to the community.
When Jonas begins his training, his life changes forever. It is the beginning of his awakening, when he starts to realize that his community is not the perfect place he thought it was. It starts with the realization that he is not the same as the others anymore. He is now apart. As he reads his rules, he realizes that they foreshadow what is to come. He does not completely understand how, as we can see from the fact that he does not react to the rule about release, but he knows that they are significant.