Why had Asher been punished for confusing the words snack and smacks in The Giver?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Asher is punished for confusing his words because precision of language is very important in the community.

Jonas’s community tightly controls every aspect of daily life.  From a young age, children are taught proper behavior and social conventions.  They are shown how to behave politely.  One aspect of this involves how to speak to others.  At the Ceremony of Twelve when stories of each advancing Eleven are told, Asher’s story is particularly poignant because it is considered funny by the community but not by most readers.  The story describes how Asher used to confuse his words when he was a toddler, and the community responded by beating him.

When Asher was three years old he confused the words “snack” and “smack.”  One day he accidentally asked for a “smack” instead of a “snack”

The other Threes, including Jonas, had laughed nervously. "Snack!...You meant snack, Asher!" But the mistake had been made. And precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack. (Ch. 7)

So they smacked him.  And it continued until the poor boy stopped talking.  While the story was shared as something funny, it indicates a lack of compassion and a strong commitment to doctrine.  The community is harsh.  There is no room for error, and there is no room for love.  Even later, at the Ceremony of Twelve, they see nothing wrong with what happened.  The Chief Elder does not acknowledge Asher’s trauma.

"For a while," the Chief Elder said, relating the story, "we had a silent Asher! But he learned." (Ch. 7)

There was no reason to hit Asher for saying the wrong word in the first place, let alone to do it over and over until the child was so traumatized that he stopped talking.  It demonstrates the harsh reality of a community unable to forgive, and foreshadows even harsher punishments like release.  We later learn that difference of any kind is not tolerated, and difference can get you killed in this community.  Asher is our window into this reality.