What does the word "release" mean in The Giver?

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The word "release" is one of my favorite parts of this book. It is a favorite of mine because of how gentle and kind of a word that it seems. It is always a great joy of mine to watch students learn the true meaning of the word right alongside Jonas as he learns the word. Readers are told about release from the community quite early on in the book, and the word does have some mystery about it. We know that when the elderly are released, it comes with a ceremony and is generally a happy time; however, a youth that is released from the community is a disgraceful thing. Part of the mystery about the word comes from the fact that Jonas himself doesn't know what happens when a person is released. He assumes, like many first time readers of this book, that releasing someone is akin to evicting them from the community. They live, but they must leave. Jonas is horrified to learn that releasing a community member means killing them through lethal injection.

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The word "release" is an euphemism (a nice way to describe something that's unpleasant) for death. Basically, those who are found wanting in any way are "released," or killed. 

In the world of The Giver, "release" is granted when a newchild or a twin sibling fails to thrive, when an elderly member of the community has outlived his years (and is ready to die), when someone commits an unforgivable offense three or more times, or when someone requests it. The only member of the community who cannot ask for release is the Receiver.

No one gets to witness a release; most people in the community believe that release is a positive experience, a means of transcending the human existence. So, when Jonas is invited by the Giver to witness a release, he is devastated by its brutal reality. You can read about Jonas's traumatic experience in Chapter 19

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