The Guide to Literary Terms defines "euphemism" as
the use of an indirect, mild, delicate, inoffensive, or vague word or expression for one thought to be coarse, sordid, or otherwise unpleasant, offensive, or blunt.
A few of the euphemisms used in The Giver are
- release--a euphemism for "mercy" killing, or euthanasia. Babies that are deemed inadequate and elderly people are "released"
- stirrings--a euphemism for puberty, when young people begin to have sexual desires; these are suppressed with drugs
- Elsewhere--a euphemism for where people go when they are released; death
- capacity to see beyond--the ability to see colors
Lois Lowry has generated a futuristic society with the exaggeration of some of the already existing conditions in contemporary America where political correctness demands that people measure their words and not use "inflammatory" language so that no one's feelings will be hurt or no one will be insulted. Along with this language control to "resolve feelings," there is also a control of perception as no one can see color, so all things and people are in shades of gray, and to use the words of Macbeth, "Nothing is what is not."
The euphemisms and drugs of the society of Jonas are used to keep people from their humanity, from their real emotions and real hormonal feelings--all that makes males males and females females. In Chapter 1, for instance Jonas recalls when he felt "frightened" as a jet flew over their community; then, he readjusts his thinking and "decides" that he was apprehensive.
Other euphemisms: transgression for crime; newchild for baby; comfort object for stuffed animal; Ceremony for the meeting which dictates to the children what they will do for the next year.
Euphemisms are substitution for words or expressions which might be interpreted as unpleasant, shameful, or oversharing. The Community within The Giver uses these carefully coined phrases in order to "protect" its members from what they perceive to be troublesome realities. Let's examine some of these euphemisms...
First off, the term "Community" euphemistically gives those who live within this world a sense of being secure, protected, and leading meaningful lives, when in actuality they are being strictly monitored and controlled. The Community is actually just an oppressive governing system.
Most of the Community believes that members who are "released" are sent to live in a different place. In reality, this is a euphemism for the strategic killing via lethal injection of those who have become too old or who are being punished for some offense.
When someone is "released," he or she goes "Elsewhere." This ambiguous term is actually just a sugarcoating of death.
"Stirrings" refer to sexual feelings, which are unwanted emotions within the community; "Feelings," as a whole, are undesired and meant to be supressed.
Even people themselves are given euphemistic titles: a woman and man who have been selected to take care of a child are respectively referred to as "Mother" and "Father" despite the lack of biological implication in their parenthood. "Elders" is the euphemism used for those who are in charge of the Community; the term imbues them with a sense of wisdom, knowledge, and good intentions... even if they have not earned or do not possess those qualities.
A euphemism is a nice way of saying something unpleasant. For example, oftentimes today we refer to someone who is dead as "passed" - as in, "she passed away last week" or simply, "she passed last week" instead of "she died last week".
It's a way to soften something that would otherwise sound unpleasant, harsh or scary.
In The Giver, there are numerous euphemisms. As others have mentioned, the most obvious are:
release - a less harsh way to refer to killing someone. Ex: "He will be released."
stirrings - a nice way to refer to the beginning of puberty and the first inklings of sexual desire. These stirrings are repressed with drugs.
elsewhere - another word for death. "Elsewhere" is where someone goes after they have been "released". It is a way to soften the idea of someone being forever gone and make acceptable the idea of releasing undesirable babies, lawbreakers, the less intelligent and the elderly.
Some other examples of the use of euphemism in The Giver are:
stirrings--used to talk about sexual desires; each
capacity to see beyond--meaning the ability to see colors
Elsewhere--death; the people are told that when someone is "released," he or she has gone Elsewhere
Euphemisms are often used to soften the cold truth. In The Giver, the people use euphemisms to hide reality. I don't think that reality is actually altered, but the perception of it certainly is. Probably the most obvious euphemism in the book is the use of the word "release."
Different people are released in the book: The pilot who flew in the wrong place near the beginning of the story was most likely released. Often, one of twin siblings is released to prevent the possibility of two individuals being alike (which is really ironic considering the emphasis on people's sameness in the community). Elderly people are released, and infants like Gabe who seem to develop too slowly are as well.
What Jonas learns as the receiver is that to "release" someone actually means to euthanize them, or KILL them. Calling this killing by another name doesn't really change the reality of the situation, but it does alter people's perceptions.
The community also values "precise language." This is ironic, since many of the things people say there are anything but precise. For example, Jonas' father is a "nurturer," but part of his job is to euthanize undesirable babies.
The Giver is a great book. For more information on it check out the links below:
release, feelings, animals, nurturer, stirrings, replacement child, elsewhere.