The Giver is a disturbing novel on many levels, which is part of what makes it an interesting read. At first, the community described in The Giver seems to run smoothly, but as the novel continues, Lowry gradually reveals the disturbing nature of this deceptively civilized society.
Although the community in which Jonas lives has low levels of suffering, starvation, and crime, this comes at a price. Everyone's basic needs are provided for, but as readers we can't help but feel the residents aren't living an enriched or meaningful life. Basic joys we take for granted are not allowed within the community, which gives this "perfect" society a disturbing undertone.
For example, the residents are not allowed to choose their own spouses and must take medication to suppress their sexuality. Once children have been raised properly, they are separated from their parents, meaning there is no such thing as grandparents or extended family. Even color is not allowed in the community, meaning the residents are not able to experience the true beauty of the world around them. This lack of color symbolizes the lack of fulfillment and vibrancy in the lives of the residents, due to the various restrictions put upon them. Essentially, anything that might lead to complications or problems between people within society has been eradicated in the community.
Jonas realizes that his life is missing something significant when the Giver bestows upon him some old memories of a time before the community was formed. These include heartwarming scenes of families enjoying Christmas together and the love felt between them. This is something that Jonas lacks in his life, and he decides that these moments of true joy and happiness are worth the suffering found outside the boundaries of the sheltered community. These disturbing elements of the book suggest that true harmony within society might come at the cost of some integral elements of a fulfilling life, such as love, sex, color, and family.
There are also some other sinister elements to the society that are discussed in the text. Perhaps the most important of these is the idea of "releasing," which is introduced at the beginning of the novel. Jonas is led to believe that releasing is a kind and generous thing to do for a person. Within the community, elderly people are released after they reach a certain age; other than that, occasionally a baby is released for various reasons, but Jonas is assured that they do not suffer. However, the Giver later shows Jonas the true nature of releasing, as those who are "released" are actually killed. Disturbingly for Jonas, his own father is involved with the releasing of babies, but he keeps this secret from his family and other residents.
In another sense, this text is also disturbing as it reveals some terrible things about the world we live in. Although the residents of the community live a relatively bleak and bland life, they don't have to deal with things such as war, discrimination, crime, suffering, and poverty. These are all things Jonas experiences for the first time as he receives the memories from the Giver, and he realizes how terrible the world was before the community. In a sense, the most disturbing part of this novel is the idea that we will perhaps never achieve true peace and harmony within a society as long as it is so complex. Either we have to dispose of complexity, leading to a bleak existence, or accept that suffering will always be an inevitable by-product of a complex society.