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The speakers provide an enforcement role in the community and the people automatically obey them.
In the community, everyone’s every move is watched all of the time. Community rules are reinforced by constant video surveillance. When a person is seen breaking a rule, the voice over the speaker will remind the rule-breaker of it. The speaker also provides public announcements and orders that community members are expected to obey.
An example of the speaker’s role in the community is demonstrated to us in the beginning of the book. Jonas is frightened when a jet plane flies overhead. The speaker orders all citizens to go inside.
Then all of the citizens had been ordered to go into the nearest building and stay there. IMMEDIATELY, the rasping voice through the speakers had said. LEAVE YOUR BICYCLES WHERE THEY ARE. (Ch. 1)
Jonas responds “instantly and obediently.” The speaker later announces that everything is fine, but the pilot just made a mistake and that the pilot will be released for his error.
The fact that Jonas and everyone else immediately obeyed the speaker demonstrates the speaker’s role. Whoever is on the other side of that loudspeaker is a voice of authority, and in Jonas’s community, you do not disobey an authority.
Jonas calls the voice of the speakers “self-important” and says that they “sit in the office with the microphone all day, making announcements” (Ch. 3). The speakers make announcements that call out an individual’s behavior, but without calling attention to specific individuals by name. An example of this is when Jonas is chastised for taking an apple home. His name is not used, but he knows the pronouncement is directed at him when he hears it.
The only thing that happened was the announcement later that evening over the speaker, the announcement that had singled him out without using his name, that had caused both of his parents to glance meaningfully at his desk where the apple still lay. (Ch. 3)
Jonas took the apple home because he saw it change color and didn’t know what that meant, so he wanted to inspect it further. However, taking food home is not allowed. Everyone in the community is only supposed to take what they can eat. Jonas was publicly chastised because someone saw that he still had the apple and wasn't eating it. Even if no one other than Jonas and his parents knew what had happened, the speaker did.
Jonas mentions that most citizens ignore “many of the commandments and reminders made by the speaker” if they do not seem to apply to them (Ch. 5). This is likely due to the speakers’ practice of making public pronouncements that are actually directly to only an individual. The idea is to humiliate the person into complying with community policy, where it will only really affect the person who knows it’s directed at him or her.
The speaker also functions as a two-way communication device with community personnel. For example, if a citizen needs something, he will ask the speaker for it. Jonas gives an example of asking the speaker for his mother so that she can “requisition” pain medication when he crushed his finger in the door.
The speaker is always on, as an ever-present force in community life. In fact, when Jonas first meets The Giver and he sees him turn the speaker off, he is shocked because he has never seen anyone do that before. No one else's speaker has an off button.
Jonas almost gasped aloud. To have the power to turn the speaker off! It was an astonishing thing. (Ch. 10)
It is a symbol of The Giver’s power. In fact, The Giver can request pretty much anything from the speaker. He asks for a video of the release of the newborn twin for Jonas to see (which is pretty much the only time he uses the speaker), and Jonas is reminded that he can get anything he wants and see any event in the community with his role as Receiver of Memory.
Jonas tells us that he is still often worried that “the Committee might be listening as they could at any time” to what occurs in people’s houses (Ch. 10). Every dwelling has a speaker, and the speakers can announce into the community at a whole. Only The Giver is free from this kind of oversight. Even so, it takes Jonas awhile to be completely comfortable talking freely even in The Giver’s quarters.
In a community where conformity is so important, it makes sense that technology would be used to enforce the rules. The community members are used to their every move being watched and scrutinized. While Jonas never questions the role of the speaker, he shows obvious discomfort with speaking about things that he does not want the community elders to know about during training, and he has to remind himself that the speaker is off. It demonstrates the pervasive role of the speakers in enforcement as well as all other aspects of community life.
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