Was the trade-off worth it in The Giver?

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The tradeoff is not worth it because the community executes its people without consequence.

Every community has to decide between security and freedom.  The more freedom you give your citizens, the less security you will have.  Jonas’s community clearly opted for the least amount of freedom in order to make everyone happier.  The tradeoff was not worth it, because there is no sense of humanity in their community.

The community is a surveillance state.  This means that all citizens are watched twenty-four hours a day no matter where they are.  There are cameras everywhere and an overseer called the Speaker communicates with them regarding anything they need, but also makes them aware of any wrong move.

In addition to the cameras, there are always people watching.  Town elders watch the children for most of their lives, and if they are not watching then ordinary people are watching them all the time.

The community was extraordinarily safe, each citizen watchful and protective of all children. (Ch. 6)

Jonas just accepts the surveillance as part of life until he begins his training as Receiver of Memory.  He is completely shocked that the Receiver has the ability to turn the speaker and cameras off.  Jonas has never seen a speaker with an off button.  No one else in the community ever gets any privacy.

The advantage to this is that with Sameness no one ever feels uncomfortable.  People are watched over and protected, and everyone has a job and a house and enough food.  There are no unwanted pregnancies, because the population is controlled and all of the babies are created by the community.  There are no broken families because family units are carefully constructed.  Two adults are paired and then given two children, a boy and a girl.

The disadvantage to these perfect families and the strict rules is that when someone does not comply, the community is extremely ruthless in dealing with it.  Babies who do not meet strict guidelines are released, and citizens who break the rules are released.  When they decide that the old people have lived long enough, they are released as a matter of course.

There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we- have-done. (Ch. 1)

We would love to think that killing babies is rare in the community, but it clearly isn’t.  It happens twice during the book.  The twin is actually killed and Gabriel would have been if Jonas had not rescued him and escaped.  Clearly killing babies is a normal occurrence.  Jonas’s father is not pleased with it, but never seeks to question it.

The other tradeoff the community makes is with the Stirrings pills.  In an effort to keep complete control of the community’s citizens, the community has created some kind of hormone blocker.  It ensures that the citizens never have strong feelings. The problem is that they never really get to experience the full spectrum of human emotion.  They live in a state of eternal numbness.

For Jonas, the first time he experience feelings is in the memories.

Jonas nodded. "I liked the feeling of love," he confessed. … "I wish we still had that," he whispered.  "Of course," he added quickly, "I do understand that it wouldn't work very well. And that it's much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live." (Ch. 16)

It is true that feelings and emotions can be dangerous.  They make people uncomfortable.  They also lead people to make decisions.  Decisions are carefully controlled in the community.  No one really has a choice about anything.  Every choice is made for them.

Jonas starts to realize that the fact that no one in his community has ever had an independent thought or a real feeling is what is dangerous.  The danger is not in letting people live their own lives, it is in letting the government control them.  This is how innocent people end up dead.  When Jonas starts to understand what is really happening in the community, he cannot allow it to continue.  He escapes in an act of rebellion that ensures that the memories will be returned to the people and the complete control their community has over them will come to an end.

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