Jonas’s society is tightly controlled by Sameness, and no one makes their own choices.
In Jonas’s world, everyone in the community lives by the community’s rules. The rules are very strict, and they are all based on the principle of Sameness. At its most basic, this means that all of the big decisions are made. Your family, your occupation, and your housing are chosen for you. You are provided with food and clothing. It is a life of predictability and control, but not control by you. You are under their control.
One of the major differences is that people do not choose their spouses or have children. Family units are created by committee, and children are created genetically (it’s not entirely clear how) and born to special birthmothers. They are raised in Nurturing Centers for a year and then appointed to family units created with one male and one female adult and one male and one female child. Once the children are grown the unit disbands. The idea is to control the population.
Centuries back. The population had gotten so big that hunger was everywhere. Excruciating hunger and starvation. It was followed by warfare. (Ch. 14)
There is also no love. To prevent unwanted babies (and unwanted feelings), all adults take pills for Stirrings. This way they control both emotions and the population.
Another difference is that people do not choose their own jobs. At the age of twelve, children are assigned an occupation during a special ceremony called the Ceremony of Twelve.
[The Ceremony of Twelve was proceeded by a speech by the Chief Elder about] the period of preparation, the coming responsibilities of adult life, the profound importance of Assignment, the seriousness of training to come. (Ch. 7)
From twelve on, the children train for their job and slowly train less and work more until they become fully responsible adults.
Finally, Jonas’s world is different from ours because differences are not tolerated. They have a way of dealing with differences called release.
There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we-have-done. (Ch. 1)
Later, Jonas learns that release actually means death by lethal injection. A person who breaks three laws—or one major one—is released. A baby who does not grow fast enough, or a person who is too old to be valuable, is also released. Differences are simply not allowed.
This book is an example of a dystopia because it shows an attempt to create a perfect world that has gone wrong. It is meant as a warning, showing us that the things we try to control are actually sometimes the things we most value. While differences, choices, and emotions might make life harder, they are also what make life worth living.