Jonas escaped when he realized that Gabriel was about to be released.
Jonas did not know what release really meant at first. No one in his community really did. Sameness was the ultimate goal, and no one questioned it. It was their society’s purpose. When Jonas was selected as the Receiver of Memory, it meant that he would undergo special training, and learn his community’s secrets. Those secrets were darker than Jonas imagined.
Jonas explains to the reader at the beginning of the book that there are only two occasions when release is not a punishment: release of the elderly, and release of a newchild who has failed to meet growth targets. Jonas’s father, Chief Nurturer, manages to get a special dispensation for Gabriel, a newchild who is failing to thrive, to come into their home at night for extra nurturing. Jonas has an immediate connection with the baby, noticing that they have the same light colored eyes.
Now, seeing the newchild and its expression, he was reminded that the light eyes were not only a rarity but gave the one who had them a certain look—what was it? (Ch. 3)
Jonas’s connection to Gabriel only grows with his training. He learns to see colors, and gains the community’s memories. As he does so, he begins to share them with Gabriel in order to help the fitful baby sleep at night. The fact that Jonas is able to transmit memories to Gabe seems to demonstrate that he too has the Capacity to See Beyond.
Jonas begins to question with the more memories he gets. He wants to know why the community does not have color, or choice. The Giver explains that the community tightly controls everything in an effort to keep everyone safe and comfortable. Sameness keeps the peace. But Jonas’s life is shattered forever when he finds out one day that his father is overseeing the birth of twins, and asks to see.
The Giver tells Jonas that he needs to see what his father has done. The release was videotaped, and Jonas can and should watch it. What Jonas sees hits him hard. He watches his father weigh both twins, choose the smaller one, and give it a lethal injection with a needle and then dump it down a garbage shoot. Jonas is stunned.
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. (Ch. 19)
Jonas cannot go home and face his father, or anyone else in his community, after this. They are all ignorant of the true meaning of release. His father knows intellectually that he killed that child but emotionally it means nothing. No one in the community really understands what release means. They do not really understand what Sameness means, or what they have given up in order to achieve it.
When Jonas does go home, he learns that Gabriel has been scheduled to be released. His father tells him the news as if it were nothing.
“…Even I voted for Gabriel's release when we had the meeting this afternoon."
Jonas put down his fork and stared at his father. "Release?" he asked.
Father nodded. "We certainly gave it our best try, didn't we?" (Ch. 21)
This news, on the heels of what he has just seen his father do, is too much for Jonas. He and The Giver had made a plan to escape, and return the memories of the community to the people, so that they can abandon their life of Sameness and regain their humanity. Gabriel’s death sentence changes everything.
The original plan was for The Giver to be more involved in Jonas’s escape plan. He would help Jonas escape, and then help the Community cope with his loss. When Jonas found out that Gabe was threatened, he had to act, and had to act then. He stole his father’s bicycle (because it had a baby seat), and some food, and took off in the night.
Jonas has a very narrow window before they realize he is missing. Then, they will send search planes for him. He has already broken three rules (he is outside without permission, he stole food, and he stole the bike—he also stole the baby). He will be released if he is found, and of course so will Gabe. They are both running for their lives. Once they get far enough from the community, the memories will begin flooding back to the people, and they will become disoriented, and Jonas will be safe.
Dystopias show us a window into our world by highlighting the facets of our existence that we would rather not explore. When we segregate, discriminate, and isolate, we are falling into the community’s trap. There have been plenty of society’s in history that have tried to do what the community did, but perhaps did not have the technology. The Giver shows us a world where we have traded one kind of suffering for another. There is no hunger or cold, but there is no love or joy either. It is not a world worth having.