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Three words that are important to know from the book are release, Sameness, and memory.
Jonas’s community is very different from our world in many ways. First of all, everything in the community is tightly controlled. One of the ways the community regulates behavior is by enforcing rules thorough release. Community members who break the rules in the community are released. If a serious rule is broken, the citizen is released immediately.
Jonas had smiled a little, though he knew what a grim statement it had been. For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure. (Ch. 1)
Otherwise, a person who breaks three rules is released. Jonas actually risks release himself when he escapes at the end of the story. He also steals food, takes his father’s bike, and is out of his dwelling at night. All are serious infractions.
Release is also his community’s method of quality control and population control.
There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we-have-done. (Ch. 1)
Most community members have no idea what release really means. They think people simply go to Elsewhere, which means that they go somewhere else. They do not know it means death by lethal injection. When Jonas learns the meaning of release, he is horrified. It gives him a new understanding of his community’s casual depravity.
Why is release so important to the community? They value Sameness. Sameness is the concept that means that everyone in the community looks alike and acts alike, but it is more than that. They control the weather, and the landscape. Everything in the community is artificial, bland, and completely under control. Sameness means total and complete domination.
The Giver explains to Jonas why there is no longer snow.
"Climate Control. Snow made growing food difficult, limited the agricultural periods. And unpredictable weather made transportation almost impossible at times. It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness. (Ch. 11)
The community has so much hubris that it feels the need to control everything. Hills are impractical? Get rid of them. Weather is inconvenient? Eliminate it. Anything that does not fit your narrow view of the world is gone. Sameness is much better. Sameness is under your control.
Finally, the last concept that is important to the book is memory. Memory does not work in this world as it does in ours. Somehow, they have managed to gather a collective memory, and store it in one person. This person can then pass it on to others, but only certain people. There is a supernatural aspect to this, and they call it the Capacity to See Beyond. The Giver explains to Jonas that it is not his memories that he is giving him.
"It's the memories of the whole world," he said with a sigh. "Before you, before me, before the previous Receiver, and generations before him." (Ch. 10)
Due to this storage of memories, no one in the community has to know anything. They remain blissfully ignorant. Since they do not know, they do not feel. They can remain emotionless. The community Elders are able to come and consult the Receiver or Giver of Memory when they need to know information to make a decision, because they know that he or she has the wisdom to make a decision when they do not know the community history to make an informed choice.
This book is a dystopia that shows us a world somewhat like our own, but different enough to give us chills. Jonas's people have tried to make themselves peaceful by eliminating happiness as well as sadness. Jonas realizes that you need both, though, to be a functioning society. A community that can kill babies without a thought is not one he wants to live in.
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