What does release mean in The Giver?

What does "release" mean in The Giver?

In The Giver, "release" is a euphemism for death and a common term used to mislead the citizens of Jonas's community.

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In the strange dystopian world inhabited by the characters in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, “release” means death by euthanasia. While most people in the community are under the impression that those who are “released” simply leave the community and go to a place known as “Elsewhere,” the reality is that they are given a lethal injection.

There are a few scenarios in which someone can be condemned to release. In rare cases, release is a punishment meted out to someone who either commits three transgressions or a single transgression of such a serious nature that immediate release is deemed necessary. This type of release is considered to be the ultimate shame and “an overwhelming statement of failure.” Elderly people can also be released, which is seen as a celebration within the community. Babies who prove to be unhealthy or do not grow enough can also meet this fate. When a baby is released, the community reacts with sadness. It is also possible to apply for release—unless you are the Receiver of Memory.

When Jonas learns the truth of what release really means, it is a turning point for him. He is horrified that his father is capable of killing and realizes that his baby brother is not safe. He can no longer abide by the rules of the community and begins to formulate an escape plan.

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In Lois Lowry's The Giver, "release" is a euphemism for death in Jonas's community. In Jonas's community, the word has a positive connotation and sounds more like a peaceful retreat than death. Typically, release is applied to the elderly or newchildren who have not met the developmental standards of the community. In these situations, release is synonymous with euthanasia. The widespread belief throughout Jonas's community is that the elderly and inadequate newchildren are sent to Elsewhere when they are released. Elsewhere is an unknown location outside of the community and an ambiguous term used to mislead people about the term "release."

On rare occasions, citizens commit three transgressions and are released. Sometimes, citizens commit a serious transgression that warrants an immediate release. At the beginning of the story, Jonas recalls the time when a pilot accidentally flew his jet over the community and the Speaker announced that he would be released. The community's method of killing the elderly, inadequate newchildren, and perpetrators is through lethal injection.

During one of Jonas's training sessions, the Giver tells him the truth behind the term "release" by showing Jonas a video of the release of a newchild. Jonas is appalled when he witnesses his father lethally inject an infant and casually place its body in a carton to be disposed of. Once Jonas learns the truth about release, he demands to leave the community and devises a plan to escape.

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Although being released sounds like a nice thing, it is definitely not. In The Giver, when a person is "released," they are killed through a lethal injection.

During the early parts of the story, readers know that being released is not a good thing, but the term doesn't immediately carry the connotation of death. We are told that being released from the community is a punishment, and it is a punishment that carries a social stigma.

For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure.

But at that point in the story, a reader would think that release is banishment at worst. Eventually Jonas learns the truth about what being released really means.

He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen numbly.

Jonas is horrified to learn that when a person is released, they are killed. He's further horrified to know that his own father has always known this and isn't bothered by it. Jonas takes a very active step against this societal practice when he escapes with his baby brother.

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Release is death by lethal injection, either as a punishment or a form of euthanasia.

We are first introduced to the concept of release in the beginning of the book when Jonas remembers a plane flying overhead.  There is an announcement that the pilot will be released, and Jonas comments on what release means.

For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure. (ch 1, p. 2)

Later, we learn that the only cases where release is not a punishment is release of the elderly and release of a newchild.  Release of the elderly is a cause for celebration, and release of a newchild is sad because there is a sense that something else should have been done.

It is not until much later in the book that we find out that release means death.

He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen numbly. (ch 19, p. 150)

Until that point, Jonas did not understand what release really meant.  None of the community members really did.  Jonas was shocked to learn that his father had killed a newborn baby like it was nothing.

 

Lowry, Lois (1993-04-26). The Giver (Newbery Medal Book). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

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