What are examples of individuality versus conformity in The Giver by Lois Lowry?

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One example of individuality versus conformity in The Giver concerns Jonas's struggle to express his genuine feelings while using precise language, which significantly limits his individuality and suppresses his voice. Jonas also must conform to society's standards by accepting an Assignment determined by the committee. Jonas's decision not to take pills for the Stirrings is another example of individuality versus conformity.

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Jonas's dystopian community is founded on the principles of Sameness, which eliminate individuality, ensure conformity, and suppress personal freedoms. Citizens in Jonas's community must conform to every aspect of society or risk being released. One element of Jonas's society that is strictly regulated by the authorities is language. Citizens are required to use precise language at all times, which significantly limits individuality and suppresses their voice. At the beginning of the story, Jonas struggles to exercise his individuality and must conform to society's standards by choosing the correct word to express his feelings regarding the upcoming December ceremony. Jonas must censor his thoughts and feelings in order to use an appropriate, acceptable word.

Another example of individuality versus conformity concerns the process involved in receiving an Assignment. Citizens in Jonas's community do not have the ability to choose their future occupations, which are determined by the Committee of Elders. Jonas cannot exercise his individuality by choosing an occupation of his choice and must hope that the committee gives him an Assignment that he enjoys. Before he becomes the community's Receiver of Memory, much of Jonas's anxiety is caused by his lack of individuality and personal choice to determine his future. Another prominent example of individuality versus conformity concerns Jonas's decision to not take the pills for the Stirrings. The citizens are required to take pills that suppress their sexual urges, which helps ensure stability throughout the community. After Jonas gains significant insight into his community, he challenges conformity by refusing to take the pills for the Stirrings.

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The society that exists in Lois Lowry's The Giver does its best to keep everything equal for everyone. For example, everyone receives the same types of dwellings, family units, and rules to follow without exception. This is possible because no one is any different from anyone else and each person feels as though his or her needs are met. As a result, conformity is easy to manage because there are no individual needs outside of food, water, shelter, education, and jobs. 

Still, the community cannot stop people's personalities from being diverse, and this is where individuality tends to conflict with the rules of conformity. For example, in chapter six, Lily is getting ready for the annual ceremonies and her mother wants to tie her hair ribbons for her. Lily has independent tendencies which prompt her to want to tie her ribbons herself, which she expresses as follows:

"I can tie them myself . . . I always have . . . I don't like hair ribbons. I'm glad I only have to wear them one more year . . . Next year I get my bicycle, too" (51).

However, whenever she ties them, the ribbons seem to come untied because she can't tie them tight enough to stay in all day. One of the community's rules is that all ribbons must remain tied at all times. Because Lily doesn't purposely untie the ribbons during the day, though, she does not get into too much trouble for breaking this minor rule. The community constantly reminds her to follow the rule. Consequently, on this special day, Lily's mother wants to make sure that the hair ribbons comply with the rules. If it were up to Lily, though, she would not wear the ribbons.

Another example of individuality versus conformity in The Giver is when people must take pills to suppress their sexual appetites. These desires lead people to seek out a partner of preference, which is frowned upon because preferences tend to be different from person to person. Choosing lifelong partners is also not an option, so personal preferences are better squashed in order to avoid future feelings of individuality and inequality. As a result, people of the community are forced to take pills that suppress feelings of preference from the time of puberty until they go to the House of the Old. Without the distribution of these pills to teenagers and adults, though, individuality would be more apparent, and the community as a whole would be harder to manage.

One last example of individuality conflicting with conformity is when Jonas discovers colors. When he realizes that only he and the Giver can see colors, Jonas understands that his freedom to choose has been taken away without him knowing it. He responds as follows:

"It isn't fair that nothing has color! . . . If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?" (123).

Again, the discrepancy between the freedom to make one's own choices conflicts with the community's desire to maintain conformity. That is why only one person from the community can be the Receiver of Memory. Since everyone in the community does not understand how much they are limited from making personal choices each day, the society runs smoothly. But as Jonas discovers this truth, he feels the need to do whatever he can to bring back people's freedom to choose, personal preferences, and individuality by overthrowing the system of conformity that they live by.

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