What is Jonas's relationship with The Giver in The Giver?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jonas’s relationship with The Giver is very paternal, as the old man teaches him things but also cares about him.

Before his Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas did not even know the Receiver of Memory.  He was a mysterious figure in the community with whom Jonas, and most of the other citizens, had not contact. 

The Receiver was the most important Elder. Jonas had never even seen him, that he knew of; someone in a position of such importance lived and worked alone. (Ch. 2)

When Jonas was selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, it was as big a surprise to him as it was to everyone else (except the old man himself).   He had been watching Jonas for years, of course, and knew he had the traits that would make him the next Receiver.  His eyes, for example, were a dead giveaway.  Jonas and The Receiver both had light colored eyes.  Very few people in the community do, and the only ones that do also have the same potential.

Jonas begins his training immediately after the ceremony, and he has no idea what to expect because he is not even sure what the Receiver does.  Everyone else gets thick folders of instructions, and Jonas gets a one page list of eight rules that almost completely baffles him.  The list indicates that he will spend little time with anyone in the community, that he is not allowed to talk about his training, and that he is allowed to lie to others.  He’s allowed to be rude.  He’s not allowed to take pain medication or tell anyone his dreams.  He’s not allowed to apply for release.

The list is spooky.  Mentions of pain, release, lying, and prohibitions from talking are ominous enough.  He is supposed to go straight home after training and is not allowed to talk about it.  Jonas has a natural twelve year old’s reaction to the list.

Jonas was stunned. What would happen to his friendships? His mindless hours playing ball, or riding his bike along the river? Those had been happy and vital times for him. Were they to be completely taken from him, now? (Ch. 9)

When Jonas begins his training, at first he does not know what to make of The Giver.  He is old, and seems older than even his natural age.  He is aged by responsibly and pain.  He lives a life of isolation and withdrawal.  Jonas soon learns that it is because of the memories.  He can feel, when no one else can. 

Slowly, he teaches Jonas what it means to feel.  Jonas learns that his community has been hiding a dark secret.  The human experience is so much more complex than they allow.  Jonas realizes that no one in their community really actually feels.

But Lily had not felt anger, Jonas realized now. Shallow impatience and exasperation, that was all Lily had felt. He knew that with certainty because now he knew what anger was. Now he had, in the memories, experienced injustice and cruelty, and he had reacted with rage that welled up so passionately inside him that the thought of discussing it calmly at the evening meal was unthinkable… (Ch. 17)

The Giver guides Jonas in his understanding of his gifts, and explorations of his feelings.  He helps him realize that the visions he sees are the beginnings of seeing color, and why the community has eliminated color, in the need for control.  Colors were eliminated when the community went to Sameness.  Now Jonas can see them.  Now Jonas can feel.  The Giver is Jonas’s guide through pain, suffering, war, starvation, and injustice, but he also shows him beauty, love, and hope.  The Giver gives him sailboats and snow and grandparents. 

In showing Jonas love, The Giver helps Jonas understand that people used to have real relationships.  Jonas asks his parents if they love him, and they react with amusement that confuses him.  The only person who really loves Jonas in the old-fashioned way is The Giver.  He is the grandparent Jonas never had, because the community robbed him of that relationship, but The Giver recreates it in small ways.  Jonas does the same thing, making a little brother out of Gabriel, the Newchild he knows instantly that he is related to.  He gives Gabriel memories accidentally at first, but they are part of the bond he forms with the baby.  The Giver shows him love, and he shows Gabe love.

The guidance The Giver passes on to Jonas is not always easy for him.  He eventually has to tell Jonas the hardest truth about their society—what release really is.  He does this by having Jonas watch his father kill a newborn infant.  It may be a harsh lesson, but it certainly got the point across.  Jonas is horrified, because he knows what happened.  He has seen death, countless times, in the memories.  Yet The Giver has to explain to him that his father, who murdered the baby emotionlessly, really did feel nothing.

The Giver grasped his shoulders firmly. Jonas fell silent and stared at him.

"Listen to me, Jonas. They can't help it. They know nothing."

"You said that to me once before."

"I said it because it's true. It's the way they live. It's the life that was created for them. It's the same life that you would have, if you had not been chosen as my successor." (Ch. 20)

He makes it clear to Jonas that his father was only doing what he was told to do, and everyone in the community is doing that.  Jonas knows, and The Giver knows, but no one else does.  This is a hard lesson for Jonas to learn. It is more painful, in many ways, than the physical pain he has suffered.  It is the truth about his perfect world coming crashing down on him.  The Giver had to tell him this.  He knew that it would be hard for Jonas, but he also knew that Jonas could handle it.

Jonas and The Giver make a plan, to return the memories to the community, and end the tyranny of emotional control.  It is a good plan, but it is interrupted when Gabe is threatened.  Jonas learns he was scheduled for release, and has to take him and run.  He is strong though, because of The Giver’s training, emotional support, and love.

The relationship between The Giver and Jonas is unlike any he would have experienced if he had not become the Receiver of Memory.  As The Giver’s protégé, Jonas was loved and taught morality and responsibility.  These were things that, as The Giver explained, were not possible for the other members of the community.  Jonas was special, but under The Giver’s guidance he grew into a young man of integrity and strength.

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