Why did Jonas leave the town in The Giver?
Throughout Jonas's training sessions with the Giver, he becomes increasingly jaded about the community's way of life and questions the founding concept of Sameness. Jonas desires to live in a world full of colors and individual choices, where people have control over their own lives and interact with their natural, unpredictable environment. He also questions the family structure in his community and desires to experience true love like people in the past. In addition to his negative feelings regarding Sameness, Jonas is appalled and horrified after he discovers the true meaning of the term release. In Chapter 19, the Giver shows Jonas footage of his father lethally injecting a newborn child during a release and Jonas refuses to return home. Jonas and the Giver formulate a plan for him to escape the community, which goes awry after he learns that Gabriel will be released the next day. Jonas ends up escaping his community to save Gabriel's life and steals his father's bike and food supplies as he flees the community. While Jonas had originally intended to escape his community to permanently change its culture and structure, he ultimately flees his community to save Gabriel's life.
Jonas’s decision to leave begins when he and The Giver start to explore what would happen to the community if he left. In chapter 18, Jonas asks what would happen if he was in an accident. They have discussed the pain the community went through when Rosemary was released and the memories were returned to the community. Jonas notes that he has many more memories than Rosemary had at the time of her release, so the chaos that resulted would be greatly magnified.
The Giver becomes thoughtful, and replies, “If you floated down the river, I suppose I could help the whole community the way I’ve helped you. It’s an interesting concept. I need to think about it some more” (145). This is the first time that Jonas leaving becomes a possibility.
When Jonas views the video of his father killing the newchild in chapter 19, he has a violent reaction. For the first time, he realizes how terribly wrong things are in his community. He begins to believe that the only way they can recover and regain their humanity is by recovering their memories. This means that not only can Jonas leave, but he has to in order to save them from themselves. The Giver tells Jonas, “They can’t help it. They know nothing. … It’s the life they live. The one that was created for them” (152). Jonas considers whether or not it is their responsibility to fix this. When Jonas asks The Giver why they should care about the community’s lack of humanity, he realizes that, “of course they had to care. It was the meaning of everything” (156).
Jonas is excited about the plan, and he and The Giver continue to work on it. But in chapter 21, Jonas learns that Gabriel is scheduled to be released. He cannot allow this to happen, especially since he has been giving memories to Gabe. The plan has to be moved up, and Jonas escapes before he is completely ready.
The answer to this question can be found in Chapter Twenty-One of this great dystopian novel. Although Jonas is planning on leaving at some point, we see that in this chapter his hand is forced and he has to leave a lot more quickly than he thought he would. The reason for this swift departure is that Jonas was told by his father that Gabriel is going to be "released" the next day. Of course, now Jonas is aware of the more sinister meaning of this word, which is particularly highlighted in the following quote:
"It's bye-bye to you, Gabe, in the morning," Father said, in his sweet, sing-song voice.
Note how the real meaning of the "release" is again masked by the "sweet" voice of the father of Jonas. This of course means that Jonas has to leave that very evening to escape and take Gabriel to a place of safety. Thus Jonas leaves his home and his town because he wants to save Gabriel's life.
Jonas's time with The Giver opens his mind to "seeing beyond" through not only the memories he receives from The Giver, but also the emotions that go along with the memories. Nothing in the "sameness" life of the community has prepared him for this experience, and while he is somewhat overwhelmed at first, he comes to realize the enormity of all the community has lost. It is this recognition that ultimately secures Jonas's flight from the community.
In Chapter 17, he is confronted with the repercussions of this loss when he sees his friends playing a game of war, which he had not understood the reality of until The Giver shared the memory of the soldier with him. Defeated, he reflects that,
With his new, heightened feeling, he was overwhelmed by the sadness at the way the others had laughed and shouted, playing at war. But he knew that they could not understand why, without the memories. He felt such love for Asher and for Fiona. But they could not feel it back, without the memories. And he could not give them those. Jonas knew with certainty that he could change nothing.
When Jonas meets with The Giver for his next session, his questions about what happens with a "release" in the community serve as a starting point that further fuel his concerns about the community and the self-imposed rules that govern decisions. The next several sessions build on this as Jonas learns that when a Receiver of Memories is released, the memories received flow back to the community. When Jonas learns that Gabriel is due to be released, this knowledge is the turning point for Jonas who has grown to love Gabriel and can't bear to see him killed, but more so for the realization that by leaving, he can give back the memories to the people he loves and share with them both the joys and sorrows that make life worth living.