Chapter 17 is a study in contrasts, meaning that it focuses on pointing out differences. Difference is a major theme in The Giver. This chapter illustrates most major themes in the book, making this a very important chapter. This chapter also occurs at the point in the book where Jonas is becoming more self-aware and beginning to question things about his community, making this chapter important in developing the themes of individual vs. community and coming of age.
First of all, Chapter 17 begins with an unscheduled holiday. Since everything in the community is so carefully structured to prevent choice, an unstructured day where citizens choose what they do is completely different. The fact that the holiday is unscheduled when everything in the community is scheduled is also significant. This lack of structure allows Jonas to apply what he has learned as Receiver of Memory by observing others.
This chapter also serves to demonstrate how much Jonas’s life has changed. This is related to the Coming of Age theme. As this chapter begins, Jonas notes that school is not as important to him. He notes that his memories and feelings make him experience things at a deeper level. The confrontation with Asher over the war game demonstrates that Jonas has matured not just beyond his friends and people his age, but beyond the emotional maturity of the community in general. After Jonas comments on Asher’s war game, Asher apologizes for not giving Jonas the respect he deserves (134). Jonas has been separated from his friends and raised above them in prestige at the same time. He is no longer considered or treated as a child.
Finally, this chapter further demonstrates how much Jonas has distanced himself from the community. The first thing Jonas does is leave his family, as he is symbolically doing bit by bit. When he does interact with others in this chapter, it is as an observer. He has not taken the pills to prevent Stirrings, which is unusual and gives him feelings others do not have. Sexual feelings and the reaction or limiting of them is another theme in the book. Jonas also connects the Stirrings with feelings in general, and he notes that “he couldn’t go back to the world of no feelings that he had lived in for so long” (131). His feelings also come from memories, another element of Jonas that separates him from others. He realizes that others in the community do not really feel. Jonas no longer fits into the community as he did before.
Chapter 17 is a study in contrasts that develop important themes in The Giver including memories, coming of age, sex, and the individual vs. society. Jonas starts the day happy, and ends it depressed. This is because he realizes that things can never go back to the way they were, and he does not want them to.