How did The Giver explain the visual phenomena that Jonas witnessed in The Giver?

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

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Jonas has the Capacity to See Beyond, including the ability to see color, which no one else can see.

One of the first ways that Jonas knows that he is special is when he has a vision.  At first, he has no idea what he is really seeing.  He just notices that an apple suddenly changes in a way he cannot explain.  The Giver later explains to him that he is seeing color.  In fact, he is seeing the color “red” in the apple, skin tones, and Fiona’s hair.

Jonas’s community has embraced the concept of Sameness.  This means that everyone looks the same, but also that there is no color.  No one can see any colors.  Imagine watching the world on an old black and white television set.  Everything is shades of gray.

Jonas first sees the color red in the vision he has when the apple “changed” when he was playing catch with Asher.  It was a transformative experience for him.

But suddenly Jonas had noticed, following the path of the apple through the air with his eyes, that the piece of fruit had—well, this was the part that he couldn't adequately understand—the apple had changed. Just for an instant. (Ch. 3)

Jonas took the apple home—and got in trouble for it—but he was not able to find anything unusual about it.  It was just an ordinary apple after that.  It was only for that instant that the apple was different for him.  He only saw its color briefly.

Red is a very distinctive color.  It is probably why it stands out enough to be the first color Jonas saw.  It is also the color of passion, and blood.  It is a symbolic color.  Jonas sees it again in the skin tones at the Ceremony of Twelve, which is a very meaningful place for him to acknowledge his difference and his Capacity to See Beyond.

But when he looked out across the crowd, the sea of faces, the thing happened again. The thing that had happened with the apple.

They changed. (Ch. 8)

Seeing the faces change is what helps Jonas assure the Elder that he is indeed the next Receiver of Memory.  He tells her that it is all true.  He does have the gifts she has been describing.  The change in the faces produces a “sureness” in him.

When Jonas begins his training, The Giver tells him that he has been seeing red, and explains about Fiona’s hair.  Eventually, once he begins receiving memories and learns what the world used to be like, he can see all of the colors, and the world begins to look to him the way it looks to us.

Research has told us that there is a clear connection between color and emotion.  There are even therapies that use color treatments.  Perhaps this is why Jonas’s world got rid of the colors.  It definitely was a way of controlling people. 

Jonas comments once about the lack of choice associated with a lack of color.  It is a minor, but fundamental way that his community controls people.  Controlling color also maintains an emotional equilibrium.  People have to be calm, and have no emotions.  This is Sameness.  Jonas learns right away that he would rather feel both pain and love than neither.

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