The ongoing debate between external control and free will is evident in philosophical writings dating back many centuries. Many people have argued that as society grows increasingly complex, the power of social structures—deployed through institutions—likewise increases. This belief often accompanies strong advocacy for limiting the role of government. The Giver is a dystopian novel, offering a portrait of a society in which almost every aspect of people’s lives are mapped out in advance, regulated by laws, and socially enforced by peer pressure.
Nevertheless, Lois Lowry’s novel ultimately comes down on the side of freedom of choice. Primarily through the character of Jonas, Lowry shows that even an individual living in a highly conformist society can make their own decisions and thereby shape their destiny. Furthermore, although Jonas’s father largely adheres to the stringent social controls, he also makes an individual choice when he advocates for one baby and even names him. Although he continues to euthanize infants in his job as Nurturer, his selection of baby Gabriel paves the way for Jonas to rebel further.
Jonas has been shaped both by nature, in his unusual ability to receive memories, and by society, which mandates that people with those gifts fulfill a specific social role. However, his appointment as Receiver backfires, because the knowledge he gains there, along with his affection for Gabriel, catalyzes his decision. Jonas does not try to reform his flawed society, but rejects it altogether, boldly charting a unique new path for himself and the baby.