The Giver Themes

The main themes in The Giver include the individual vs society, coming of age, and the value of emotions.

  • The individual vs society: Jonas ultimately chooses to challenge the conformity of his community by embracing his individuality.
  • Coming of age: When young, innocent Jonas is exposed to the terrible realities of his community, he must decide whether society as he knows it should be destroyed. 
  • The value of emotions: In Jonas’s society, children are taught to stifle strong feelings, and adults take pills to dull their emotions. After he becomes the Receiver of Memory, Jonas begins to question these practices.


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Last Updated on June 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 831

The community Jonas lives in appears to be perfect, peaceful, and utopian. Things are not as they seem, though, and several complex themes emerge as the story unfolds, including the individual versus society, freedom versus limitation, the process of coming of age, and the importance of emotions.

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The Individual vs Society

In the beginning of the novel, Jonas accepts the rules of his community and wants to fit in. There are rules against bragging or pointing out differences or any other indicators of individual distinction. The community rules ensure that people will not do or say anything that breaks or threatens the homogeneity of the community. However, when Jonas is selected to be the Receiver, he is immediately set apart from the rest of the community, and this novel experience of distinction, of becoming an individual, makes Jonas profoundly uncomfortable. Paradoxically, though the Receiver of Memory is precisely what allows the community to exist in a stable, peaceful, homogenous state, Jonas's personal experiences in this role are what convince him to reject the community's teachings. When forced to confront the fact that his society is indifferent to the things his Receiver trainings have taught him to care deeply about, Jonas is unable to maintain his relationships with his friends and family and eventually realizes that he can no longer be a part of his society.

Freedom vs Limitation

The community members are bounded by limitations in all aspects of life. They do not choose their careers, their spouses, or even their appearances. Nor do they choose when they will have children or how many. While community members can exercise limited choice in some instances—such as preferences around volunteer work and recreation—such choices are only allowed in a carefully controlled context. After learning about colors and sensations, Jonas begins to wish for the ability to make simple decisions—like being able to choose clothes based on colors that he likes or letting Gabriel choose which toy to play with—but he is initially reluctant to challenge the community's teachings that such choices encourage dangerous and “wrong” individualistic behavior. However, as he is exposed to more memories of the past, Jonas begins to question whether choices themselves are inherently wrong, realizing that though people may sometimes make poor or selfish choices, the ability to decide freely is what gives meaning to life.

Coming of Age

The community ritualizes the coming-of-age process in the Ceremony of Twelve. When the Elevens turn Twelve, they receive their assignment, which will be their adult career. After each child is called to the stage during the ceremony, the Chief Elder thanks them for their childhood and announces their permanent assignment. After year twelve, people stop keeping track of their ages and simply transition into full adulthood and then again to being simply Old. The Ceremony of Twelve marks the beginning of Jonas's journey to greater maturity and understanding. For normal children in Jonas's society, the transition to adulthood does not grant them greater independence, freedom, or responsibility—just like...

(The entire section contains 831 words.)

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