What happens at the end of The Giver?

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The author doesn't tell us what the real ending of the story is.  It is possible that when Lowry wrote The Giver, she had a sequel in mind.  Leaving the ending of this book ambiguous would encourage readers to purchase the sequel.  You can read Gathering Blue and Messenger, which were written as companion books to The Giver and will give you more information.

Going on just what the book says, there are two conclusions you could reach.

First, Jonas and Gabriel die.  The book makes it clear that they are slowly freezing to death.  They are weak, hungry and tired.  The book also says that Jonas uses his last little bit of strength to find the sled waiting for him at the top of the hill.  They sled down the hill to "Elsewhere", perhaps an afterlife of some kind that follows death.  This could be why Jonas heard music as he slowly slipped down the hill.  In addition, the Giver was transmitting memories to Jonas before he died, giving the idea that if the Giver died before they were transmitted, they would be lost forever or else freed and allowed to enter the minds of the people.  Jonas, now, being the new keeper of the memories, would release those memories when he died.  This could be why he also heard singing behind him - as he slipped away, his friends and family received the memories he had carried and were freed from the austere existence they had experienced.

Second, Jonas and Gabriel find "Elsewhere", an unexplained real and literal place.  This is supported by the fact that there is a sled waiting for them, apparently placed there by people who are hoping he will find it and use it.  It would only stand to reason that if they placed it there for Jonas, they would be waiting for him at the bottom of the hill.  This is confirmed near the end of the chapter when it says that he knew they were waiting for him and the baby.  The book also supports this idea because he heard music and saw lights and warmth coming from Elsewhere, indicating that there is life and emotion there.  There is also the possibility that his leaving freed the residents of his home town and enabled them to have memory, which is why he heard them singing behind him.

I would suggest that the author wanted you to come to your own conclusions, so she intentionally left it very ambiguous.  Reading the two companion books mentioned above would help if you simply can't stand ambiguous endings (like me!).  

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If you just go by the information provided in The Giver, there is a lot of ambiguity.

As he approached the summit of the hill at last, something began to
happen. He was not warmer; if anything, he felt more numb and more cold. He was not less exhausted; on the contrary, his steps were leaden, and he could barely move his freezing, tired legs. But he began, suddenly, to feel happy. He began to recall happy times. He remembered his parents and his sister. He remembered his friends, Asher and Fiona. He remembered The Giver.

By the end of the book, Jonas and Gabriel are not in a good place. They're starving, and all the time spent walking in bad, ever-worsening weather has left them in great danger of freezing to death. The above quote is a bit strange, then, in the way it sums up how awful Jonas' physical condition is, yet follows it up with how Jonas suddenly begins to feel happy for no reason and thinks about happy times and good people. You could either interpret this as being Jonas' last effort to push himself forward, his mind casting about for anything that will give him the strength to journey on. However, you could also easily see this as the point at which Jonas loses his grip on reality as his body begins to shut down for good. As he dies, his mind latches on to the things in life he loved most. Whichever way you choose to see it, the text doesn't give any confirmation as to which one is the right interpretation.

Using his final strength, and a special knowledge that was deep inside him, Jonas found the sled that was waiting for them at the top of the hill. Numbly his hands fumbled for the rope. He settled himself on the sled and hugged Gabe close. The hill was steep but the snow was powdery and soft, and he knew that this time there would be no ice, no fall, no pain. Inside his freezing body, his heart surged with hope.

Here's another weird element. Why would a sled just be sitting on top of a hill, waiting for someone who would be insane enough to make the journey Jonas and Gabriel decide to make? Of course, it is possible that the sled is real. Maybe the people in the happier place Jonas is trying to find put it there because they hope others will be brave enough to try to find them. On the other hand, it seems far too in keeping with the memory Jonas possesses about the sled and the hill. This could just be Jonas' mind playing tricks on him, making him hallucinate in his starved, frozen condition. Once again, the text itself gives us no confirmation as to which is the case.

He forced his eyes open as they went downward, downward, sliding, and all at once he could see lights, and he recognized them now. He knew they were shining through the windows of rooms, that they were the red, blue, and yellow lights that twinkled from trees in places where families created and kept memories, where they celebrated love. Downward, downward, faster and faster. Suddenly he was aware with certainty and joy that below, ahead, they were waiting for him; and that they were waiting, too, for the baby. For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.

Now is the time you as a reader must decide whether to be optimistic about Jonas and Gabriel's position. The sled seemed like it could be pulled straight from Jonas' mind, and this parallel between what he is describing and what is already in his mind continues in the passage above. The Christmas trees with their pretty lights, the loving families, and the joyous singing are all things Jonas has experienced while receiving memories from the Giver. Is it a simple coincidence that this real, warm and loving salvation Jonas has found so closely resembles the images he has clung to in his mind? Perhaps Jonas, aware that he is dying and has failed to save Gabriel, is given a merciful last thought of the love and joy he so lacked in his life back at home. And, in the final lines where he believes he hears singing coming from that very home, he could either be hearing the real singing of a society that has finally awoken to joy or be desperately imagining it so that he can be happy in the knowledge that at least that part of the plan worked.

The catch to all of this, of course, is that you can't really know the final fate of Jonas and Gabriel based on the actual text. It's left up to you! Now, if you want outside help in determining what happened to them, I would recommend reading the companion books Gathering Blue and The Messenger, in particular. There are references that provide more information about the ending of The Giver.

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Ambiguity is the name of the game here - whilst I agree that the novel ends in a way that obviously is set up for a sequel, I think part of the mastery of its ending lies in the fact that we do not know and we are deliberately left with at least two possible endings - they die or they reach Elsewhere and live. I guess it depends a lot on how we interpret the novel as a whole and the kind of tone it strikes.

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I first learned of The Giver in 1994 and read it and began teaching it the same year.  I was always convinced they died because the music seemed to be coming from the place he had come from- where music had not been before.  Also notice that the first time and only time in the book, Gabriel is referred to as "the baby" in the next to last paragraph of the book--all this led me to believe that Gabriel and Jonas were dead.

But they were not.

Gathering Blue (2000) certainly hinted strongly that Jonas was not dead and Messenger (2004) made it abundantly clear that they lived.

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Some people believe that Jonas and Gabe die, that the lights and music at the end are only memories, or hallucinations as they freeze to death. Others believe that Jonas and Gabe have found communities who live in the old way, with music and color and joy, as well as pain and suffering. I choose to believe that they reach another community of people who live life as it is in Jonas' memories from the Giver. 

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There is a great discussion board question about this, too - you should check that out.  I'm including it as the second link here.

When Jonas leaves the community, we only know a little bit of what happens to him.  We know that he and Gabe escape, riding on Jonas's father's bicycle.  They have to travel mostly at night at first, to avoid being found by the community.  Sometimes, the heat-seeking airplanes come looking for them, and Jonas has to transfer memories of cold to Gabe so the two of them can lower their body temperature and remain undetected by the aircraft.  Their journey is long and difficult; they have little food and energy, and they don't know where they are going.  Jonas pushes along, motivated by his desire to save Gabe from releasing and to bring change to his community. 

During the journey, they encounter new things, like wildlife.  They have never seen birds until this time; they have never caught a fish.  So they have all sorts of experiences along the way to prepare them for life outside the community.  At the end of the book, when Jonas is almost out of motivation and hope, he finds a sled in the snow, at the top of a hill.  When he and Gabe climb onto the sled, we are left with no resolution; we don't know what happens after that.  We can only guess that they make it to a new community and find a new life, or whatever we want their ending to be.  I did read for sure that Lowry never intended us to believe that they died; in her mind, Jonas and Gabe live on after the story.  It's up to the reader to decide how they do it.

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When I read it, I honestly thought they were dying.  I thought the whole idea of there being a sled was just too convenient and odd, so I honestly thought he had imagined it and they were dying.  Then I read the interview with Lois Lowry in the back of the book, where she said she intentionally left the ending vague because she wanted people to be able to envision their own future for Jonas and Gabe, but that she definitely did NOT think that the two boys died.

So, if I'm being optimistic, I'd say they find a nice family to take them in, and somehow the society they find in Elsewhere doesn't have the same constraints as the community they came from, so they are able to grow up with actual feelings and family, etc., to envision a brighter future.  Maybe eventually they'll even go back to their community to see if things have changed, or to help create those changes.

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When I taught The Giver, some of my students were very upset by this open-ended conclusion.  Two girls who worked together on a project about the book decided to go to the source and contacted Lois Lowry to ask her opinion about the ending.  As we might expect, Lowry told my students that she intentionally left the ending cryptic because she wanted readers to be able to interpret it as they did.  A friend and I discussed it and decided that we, too (like the poster above), wanted to believe that Jonas and Gabriel had reached "Elsewhere," but the book leads us to believe that "Elsewhere" means death.  So are they dead?  Are they in an afterlife?  Or are they saved?  I don't mind uncertainty in conclusions, but it IS interesting to hear that there are sequels to the book.  I'd love to hear from those who have read the sequels, in part because one person I know even disputed that these are actually "sequels" in the usual sense--just different books that deal with the same characters and concepts.  I am eager to read more in this thread.  

My students' project was amazing, by the way, and I admired their initiative in contacted Lowry.  

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I have always thought the most reasonable explanation for the ending was that Jonas and Gabriel were dying. I've also read Lois Lowry's own words that she did not intend the ending to be taken that way. The memories that Jonas accesses about winter and Christmas are supposed to be very old. On the other hand, a plane flies overhead at one point. When it comes right down to it, I think she very artfully created a book that lent itself to many interpretations, and all could be backed up with examples from the book.

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You need to read the third book in the series: "The Messenger." Jonas and Gabriel, from "The Giver," and Matty, from "Gathering Blue," are the main characters in this book.

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So you don't think that they died, then. When I first read the book I thought they had made it to Elsewhere (maybe it was just me wanting a happy ending) but later in discussion with others, my eyes were opened up to the other possibilities. I wonder if there was a planned sequel? It is such a popular book that I would wonder why Lowry didn't write it. Instead she went on to write "Gathering Blue," which follows a very similar formula but doesn't have quite the same impact in my eyes.

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Honestly, I think the ending of The Giver sets us up to expect a sequel. I suspect that the original manuscript or book proposal was for a much longer book than what ended up in print and that the publisher decided to break create a series in order to generate more profit. I hate to sound cynical, but having worked in the publishing industry for many years, I know that bringing in revenue is more important than contributing to great literature.

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As you said, the ending of The Giver is very ambiguous, allowing for the reader to make his or her own interpretation of what happens in the end. As Jonas and Gabriel make it to the bottom of the hill they hear singing, and see warmly lit homes that they know are filled with love and memories. The question and the ambiguity come into question when the reader realizes the peril of the situation the two boys were in--tired, hungry, and freezing. Did they survive to make it to the other side of Sameness; if so the ending was a happy one. If not, then they are delusional and freezing to death, in which case the ending is very sad and heartbreaking. You actually have two possible endings one thoroughly optimistic and one completely pessimistic; however, in my opinion, there is another way to view it. Jonas and Gabriel's end is happy to a certain extent either way because they have reached a happiness that neither has ever known before. In the end, they both know love, peace and happiness.

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The optimistic part of me wants to believe that Jonas has managed to get Gabriel to a new town, where people's attitudes toward individualism and free-thinking is not so rigid as in the society they left.  I want to believe that the lights Jonas sees are in welcoming homes, filled with truly nurturing people who will take them in and care for them.

Somehow, though, it also seems probable that Jonas has died trying to get Gabriel to safety, thus leading to Gabriel's death.  If that is the case, then the welcoming lights and music he hears would be indicative of heaven or some kind of gentle, good afterlife.

It doesn't really matter, though.  The images of light and warmth, of music and happiness, tell us that Jonas and Gabriel are in a better place than the one they left.

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The ending of The Giver is very ambiguous, allowing for the reader to make his or her own interpretation of what happens in the end. As Jonas and Gabriel make it to the bottom of the hill they hear singing, and see warmly lit homes that they know are filled with love and memories. The question and the ambiguity come into question when the reader realizes the peril of the situation the two boys were in--tired, hungry, and freezing. Did they survive to make it to the other side of Sameness; if so the ending was a happy one. If not, then they are delusional and freezing to death, in which case the ending is very sad and heartbreaking. You actually have two possible endings one thoroughly optimistic and one completely pessimistic; however, in my opinion, there is another way to view it. Jonas and Gabriel's end is happy to a certain extent either way because they have reached a happiness that neither has ever known before. In the end, they both know love, peace and happiness.

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That's an interesting question, and one I think can only be answered by the individual reader. Lois Lowry most likely left the ending ambiguous so that the reader might decide for himself what were the fates of Jonas and Gabriel. I have always felt that they did die at the end of the book. In order to feel like the book was complete, for me to get a sense of closure, I needed to imagine an ending that made sense to me. According to the enotes entry, "The novel's ending is ambiguous, but circular. Reunited with memories of light, snow, and sleds that the Giver gave him, reunited with memories of music, peace, joy, and freedom of choice that he found within himself, Jonas, along with Gabriel and the community that he left behind, has finally arrived in a better, more wholesome, place."

I agree with everything they say, however, I feel like the ending is more final than Jonas merely finding a better place. I feel that since the world from which Jonas came was so horrific and unforgiving that the only escape possible (that made sense to me) was death. It seemed to me that Jonas and Gabriel would only find escape, and perhaps a better place, in death.

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