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The community is very strict, and differences and misbehavior are not tolerated. Some examples of unfair consequences are the inability to keep your feelings to yourself, extreme punishment for imprecise language, and capital punishment for minor offences.
In the community, your feelings are not your own. First of all, having feelings at all is not condoned. Emotions are quickly identified and eliminated. One example of this is the evening telling of feelings.
It was one of the rituals, the evening telling of feelings. … Their parents, of course, were part of the ritual; they, too, told their feelings each evening. (Ch. 1)
The idea is that you identify the feeling, discuss it, and get rid of it as soon as possible. No one is allowed to keep feelings to himself. In the morning they tell their dreams, which is sort of the same thing. No one has any privacy.
A more severe example of this is the pills for Stirrings. Stirrings are strong feelings for the opposite sex, and the need for the pill is likely to be identified during the discussion at the dinner table or the breakfast table. In fact, this is what happens to Jonas when he describes the dream he has about Fiona.
"Can you describe the strongest feeling in your dream, son?" Father asked.
Jonas thought about it. The details were murky and vague. … "The wanting," he said…. (Ch. 5)
His parents tell him this “wanting” is his first stirring, and give him a pill to prevent it. It is important to the community to prevent any unwanted pregnancies between community members. It is not just about population control. They are controlling every aspect of the population. They match two adults to two children, and they also genetically modify every person. The Giver describes how carefully they control genetic traits, to the point where Fiona’s red hair color bothers them.
But love is about more than sexual feelings. It is about more than procreation. It is about passion and caring about another person. No one in the community will ever feel those feelings, because the Stirrings prevent them. No one in the community feels any strong feelings at all, because the minute they are faced with any kind of feeling, their first responsibility is to quash it.
In a community where feelings are not tolerated, differences are also severely frowned upon. Anything that might make others uncomfortable is not allowed. Residents are forced to apologize for the smallest infraction.
"I apologize for inconveniencing my learning community." Asher ran through the standard apology phrase rapidly, still catching his breath. The Instructor and class waited patiently for his explanation. The students had all been grinning, because they had listened to Asher's explanations so many times before. (Ch. 1)
While there may seem to be nothing wrong with apologizing, there is a darker force at play here. The focus is on making sure that no one ever feels uncomfortable and everyone is controlled. There are so many protocols and requirements to be polite, and so many rules, that there are no ways to be yourself.
A perfect example of this is in the cute little story that the Chief Elder chooses to share about Asher at the Ceremony of Twelve. The community members think that it is amusing, while the reader likely finds it disturbing. The story is about the focus that the community places on the precision of language, and also highlights the fact that corporal punishment is one of the strategies used to teach and enforce it in young children.
Poor Asher, who always talked too fast and mixed up words, even as a toddler. As a Three, eager for his juice and crackers at snacktime, he one day said "smack" instead of "snack" as he stood waiting in line for the morning treat. (Ch. 7)
"Poor Asher" received a spanking every time he used the wrong word to ask for a snack, to the point where he actually stopped talking. He was three years old. Obviously the incident traumatized him. There is absolutely no compassion in this community. They are methodical to the point of heartlessness. He asked for a “smack,” so they smacked him. Someone clearly thought it would teach him to use the right word, but it only frightened him into not talking.
This is a perfect example of an unfair and improper consequence, again. Hitting a child for using the wrong word is extreme. Hitting him over and over again until he talks correctly and using it as a humorous anecdote later is heartless. It tells you quite a lot about the community.
The most extreme example of an unfair consequence is obviously release. Release is just brutal. Capital punishment is reserved in most civilizations that practice it for the most horrific of crimes. The community uses it for babies who don’t reach their growth targets or happen to be born as identical twins (they release the smaller one).
Adults can be released for reasons most people would consider harsh too.
For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure. (Ch. 1)
If you break three rules, you will be released. However, if you do something they consider really terrible (like accidentally fly a plane over the community and scaring everyone), then you can be released. Killing someone for such small reasons, other than murder or some other terrible crime, is something we would consider an unfair consequence.
They are so serious about the three rule thing that we even learn that Jonas worries about being released when he takes Gabriel and leaves. He is extremely important to the community, but he is convinced that if he is caught he will be released.
It was not safe to spend time looking back. He thought of the rules he had broken so far: enough that if he were caught, now, he would be condemned. (Ch. 21)
Jonas, who carries the community's memories in his head, is very valuable. When he leaves, those memories will be returned to the community. If he dies, those memories will go back to the community as well. How important are these rules to them? Would they kill him anyway? Jonas seems to think so. We never find out, because Jonas does get away. Whether he lives or not depends on your interpretation of the ending.
How far should a community go to protect its interpretation of safety and well-being? What makes the world a better place? These are questions the book seeks to answer. Jonas's community decided that a world without pain and suffering, but also without love, was good enough. Most readers would probably decide that the risks of joy and love are worth the rewards.
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