In The Giver, the community where Jonas is growing up lives an idealized life with no pain and suffering and an easy solution to problems. Anyone who doesn't fit in is "released." However, being "released" has a sinister meaning, something which Jonas will learn to his horror. The community, to protect them from "Elsewhere" is strictly controlled and strong emotions, even strong words, are discouraged. Feeling "distraught" is much better explained, Jonas recalls, as being "distracted," because any stronger expressions of feeling may prompt unpleasantness and could be "unsettling." Any extremes of emotion are discouraged, even positive ones, such as "bragging," and there is no place for that in this community. Everyone is "happy," discussing emotions to be sure that they can be managed and "stirrings," such as Jonas is beginning to feel, are avoided by taking a pill . Everyone apologizes and their apologies are accepted, without question. Any real decisions, life-changing or otherwise, are referred to The Receiver, the only person authorized, with consultation with his body of Elders, to make decisions. Even discipline, it it needs to be harsh, is applied using the "discipline wand," which, even if only psychologically, makes it seem less severe by the use of the magical word, "wand."
Jonas knows that "The Ceremony of Twelve," affecting all children from twelve years of age, is significant for him, as he will be told what his assignment - determining his future - will be. Some people become "Nurturers" like his father or, "Assistant Director of Recreation," for example. Jonas, however, has been recognized for his superior intelligence and his "Capacity to See Beyond."
Life is literally black and white and "Sameness" is normal but not for Jonas. He will be assigned to learn from the current "Receiver of Memory," that very position which is above all others and he will begin to see color. He will also feel the pain associated with past experiences, his own and other people's which will give him the insight to help with the decision-making process. It involves huge responsibility as people in Jonas's community have no memory. Jonas immediately begins to feel isolated and this will continue as he is not able to share his dreams anymore or to share everything with his family and, the biggest shock for Jonas, is that he has been given permission to tell lies. Jonas now becomes the new "Receiver' and the existing receiver, from whom he is receiving memories is now "The Giver."
Jonas begins to see the merit of protecting people from their own choices but he is frustrated by not being able to share his own new experiences. However, holding on to memories so that others do not feel pain is an experience Jonas is not sure he can handle. He watches the Giver and wonders about his real value to the community. The Giver starts to share painful memories with Jonas. The most painful is a memory of war and although this shocks Jonas, more pleasant memories, such as a Christmas memory - which Jonas does not know as being Christmas - make it more bearable. Jonas also lies to his parents for the first time. Jonas has stopped taking his pill and begins to see futility in actions and reactions. He is also aware that being the Receiver gives him no real power or authority, just respect.
When Jonas questions the Giver about "release," he finally comes to understand what it really is-a lethal injection. This is such a shock to Jonas and he feels motivated to leave. Suddenly, Jonas even gives the Giver hope of changing the situation and helping the community become more complete. The Giver then helps Jonas plan his escape. However, when Jonas hears that Gabriel, his little step-brother will be "released" he has to act immediately. Having escaped, however, things are very difficult and Jonas and Gabriel are starving and wet and Jonas wonders whether this is, in fact, better than "sameness." However, Gabriel would have been "released" if they had stayed and so Jonas feels the weight of the decision as if he really had had no choice at all. This reveals the true irony of decision-making.
The story closes with a hopeful energy but there is still an element of uncertainty which is a fitting end to a story about the real responsibilities attached to decision-making.