In this futuristic moral fable, the residents live in an artificial world contrived to control the negative factors of human nature. Here are some rules:
1. No one is allowed to invade the community.
When a jet flies over, everyone must enter the nearest building so that the community appears to have no life. Because a pilot has gone off course, he has invaded the air space of the community and will be "released." Jonas notes the ironic tone of the speaker when he broadcasts this "terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure."
2. The residents must exert care in their use of language.
For example, no one is to use the term "released" in a joking manner. While the residents do not know the true consequences of this term, there is censure in its use. In addition, residents of the community must use euphemistic words rather than those that convey strong emotion. When Asher apologizes, for instance, he says that he was "distraught" about the salmon being separated, but his teacher corrects him, "Distraught is too strong a word...." He, then, writes distracted on the instructional board.
3. Strong emotion is not permitted; people must control their feelings through rationalization.
One of the rituals of the community is "the evening telling of feelings." When the sister of Jonas expresses her anger at a boy from a different community, the parents "interpret" what has happened in order to diffuse Lily's strong emotion; they convince her that the boy simply felt "strange and stupid" in a new place, so Lily should really feel sorry for him. "Lily's feelings were always straightforward, fairly simple, usually easy to resolve."
4. Those who cannot perform or develop as they should are "released."
The elderly are "released" in a celebration "for a life well and fully lived." Also, a "newchild" is released if he/she does not develop according to what is expected. Gabriel is such a child, for he has not grown as expected, and he does not sleep well at night.
5. Families are limited.
Each family can only have two children: one male and one female.
6. People who transgress three times are "released."
Those who break "the rules" of the community are removed from their families; if they acquire three offences they are removed from the community permanently.
7. Children are all grouped according to their ages.
Apparently, they celebrate no individual birthdays because they all move to the next age group simultaneously in a ceremony that moves the children to the next group. Lily is nervous about December, when the Ceremony of Twelve will take place for her and she will no longer be eleven.