In The Giver, what did Jonas help do at the House of the Old?

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

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Jonas gives an old woman named Larissa a bath.

Every eight to eleven year old is required to complete volunteer hours in the community.  It is how the community elders determine where the children's interests and skills lie in order to assign them jobs.  Jonas in particular chose to do his volunteer hours in a variety of different areas, so he had no idea where he was going to be assigned.

Students are required to complete a certain number of hours by the time they turn twelve, or they will not be given any assignment at all.  This is a great embarrassment, and they do get an assignment later, once the hours are completed, but with no ceremony.  It mars their reputation for life.

On this particular day, Jonas volunteered at the House of the Old because his friends Fiona and Asher were there.  He is given the task of helping to bathe an old woman named Larissa.  Jonas does not balk at the task like most eleven year olds would.  He is gentle and caring when helping her into the bath.

He helped the woman from the chair, led her to the tub, removed her robe, and steadied her with his hand on her arm as she stepped in and lowered herself. She leaned back and sighed with pleasure, her head on a soft cushioned headrest. (Ch. 4)

Jonas also learns about the Ceremony of Release during the bath.  He still does not know what release is, but he learns that they tell about the life of the person who is to be released and then the person walks “through the special door in the Releasing Room” and is never seen again (Ch. 4).  This is all Jonas or the reader will learn about release until much later.

This event is also significant because Jonas will have his first Stirrings dream as a result, when he dreams about Fiona in the bath.

"Jonas," she said with a smile, "the feeling you described as the wanting? It was your first Stirrings. Father and I have been expecting it to happen to you. It happens to everyone.  (Ch. 5)

The Stirrings pills are designed to prevent sexual feelings, or any feelings, from adolescents in puberty and then older adults until they are too old to have the feelings.  Jonas’s parents act like taking the pills to prevent the feelings is the natural reaction, and do not address the feelings themselves.  It is more important to just prevent them and make sure that he never has them again. 

The community is firmly committed both to population control and genetic manipulation.  They want to make sure there are no children that are not there on purpose.  However, the community is missing out on something really important in having people love each other and be close to one another.  Also, no parents are close to their children.

There is another big issue here, and that is the idea of euthanasia of the elderly when they are still active and spry.  Citizens enter the House of the Old when they are no longer useful to the community, and they are allowed to exist until the community decides they have lived long enough, and while they are clearly still healthy and agile, they are killed.  It's another, sadder, form of population control.

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