What are clues that Jonas's community is different than ours?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In the very first chapter of The Giver, we are given many clues that suggest that Jonas' community is very different from others.  From the beginning of the chapter, in which Jonas spots an airplane, to the end, with its discussion of "release," we know something is odd.

As we see Jonas' response to the airplane flying over, on the very first page, we notice that he is afraid because an airplane has flown over the community twice.  We are told that he has never seem an airplane this closely before and that no airplane is supposed to fly over the community. This is unusual, since all of us are accustomed to airplanes flying overhead, and most of us have seen at least one up close. 

As Jonas thinks back to an airplane he saw a year ago, he remembers that everyone had to take shelter when it flew over, and that the pilot flying overhead would be "released." We don't know what this means, but it is clear it is a form of punishment in this case, for the pilot's error in breaking some rule.  This becomes clear when we are told that when a citizen of the community was released, "it was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure" (2-3). And we must wonder why an airplane flying over is so terrible in the first place.

Jonas then recalls a scene from his school, in which his friend Asher has to apologize to his class with what is called the "standard apology phrase," (3), which is to say "I apologize for inconveniencing my learning community" (3).  Surely this is not a typical requirement, a formal apology, with precisely required words, that would occur in most schools today.

The scene in Chapter 1 then shifts to the dinner table at Jonas' house, where everyone is expected to share their feelings of the day.  This might not seem terribly unusual, since many families do share their feelings over the dinner table, but it seems to be a ritual and an requirement in this family, which is not usual.

Jonas' father, who has a title of "Nurturer" then talks about an infant in his charge who is not thriving properly.  The "committee" is talking about releasing this infant, and we know this can't be good, since it was a punishment for the pilot. As the conversation goes on, we find out that the elderly are released, but not as a punishment, and that young children are, too, also not as a punishment.  The conversation then turns to keeping this infant, but we are told there are rules that limit each family to one male child and one female child. Aside from China, which had a one-child policy for many years, there are no societies that have rules limiting children or their gender.  

Jonas' mother, who works for the Department of Justice, then talks about a man brought before her who had broken some rules twice and who was at risk of being released if he did so a third time. All of this is not exactly typical. Even if we don't know exactly what release is, it does seem to at the very least remove people from the community, and at least in the case of the pilot and this man, it does not sound very pleasant.  For an infant to released seems to make everyone in Jonas' family sad, and we are starting to get the idea that people who are released might very well be killed.

Another clue in this scene is presented when Lily talks about someone acting like an animal, and it becomes clear that no one knows what an animal is.  This is a society without zoos or even pets, obviously, if people don't know what animals are.

In just the first few pages, there are many clues that something about this society is quite unusual.  Whatever it is, it is unusual in a way that makes us uneasy.  This is a society in which there are strict rules, no animals, and a very severe means of punishment. 

 

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