At first, Jonas accepts the rules and punishments as how things are. After he begins training, he starts to have his doubts.
Jonas’s community has very strict rules and regulations regarding behavior. In an attempt to make everyone completely comfortable all the time they institute Sameness, which means that there are proper behaviors and conventions people are supposed to follow for just about every aspect of daily life.
The punishments for breaking rules are strict. For example, major infractions result in release. Breaking a rule three times results in release as well. Release is a serious punishment. It actually means death by lethal injection, but Jonas does not realize that until he starts his training. Every community member knows that release is a harsh punishment, however, because the person is never seen again.
We are introduced to the concept of release early on, when a pilot accidentally flies a jet over the community. This is an example of an egregious error. The pilot frightened the members of the community, and such a thing cannot be condoned.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, HE WILL BE RELEASED, the voice had said, followed by silence. There was an ironic tone to that final message, as if the Speaker found it amusing; and 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)
Rules in Jonas’s community move beyond just not flying a plane over the city. Citizens are required to apologize for an error. They must tell their dreams every morning and their feelings every evening. At the first sign of puberty, they must take Stirrings pills to abate it. These requirements ensure that no one in the community feels emotions.
There are also rules about how people dress, where and when they can be outside, and how family units are created. Everyone is the same. A family unit is formed when two spouses are matched and they apply for and are granted children. A family can’t have more than one boy and one girl.
Jonas accepts the rules and regulations, and the punishments, as just the way things are. It is not until he begins his training and sees that things can be different that he realizes that the rules are very confining and the punishments are unbearably harsh. He begins to see color, and wishes people had choices.
Jonas learns what release is when he sees his father perform it on an infant.
He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen numbly. His father tidied the room. Then he picked up a small carton that lay waiting on the floor, set it on the bed, and lifted the limp body into it. (Ch. 19)
After this, Jonas decides the community needs to be freed from the harsh restrictions and unfair punishments. He makes a plan to return the memories to the people, and actually escapes prematurely to save Gabriel from release. Gabriel’s crime? He doesn’t sleep through the night properly.