At a Glance

  • In The Giver, the ability and the desire to remember are defining characteristics. Jonas' people have, as a society, decided to all but expunge the past, giving all memories of war, pain, color, and joy to the Receiver of Memory for safekeeping. This strips people of their communal past, making it impossible for them to remember what life was like before their memories were stolen.
  • Conformity fuels Jonas' supposedly utopian society. Children are not "born" to their parents, but assigned to them, and the state delegates jobs to its citizens rather than allowing them to choose. By stripping people of their freedom (and all their memories of freedom), the government creates a dystopian society.
  • The Giver is a coming of age story in which the young, innocent Jonas is exposed to the hidden horrors of his perfect world. His personal growth has both moral and psychological implications. In the end, Jonas must decide whether society as he knows it should be destroyed. Readers are left to wonder whether his decision has a positive effect on the community.

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The community Jonas lives in appears to be perfect, peaceful, and utopian. Things are not as they seem, though, and Jonas is forced to confront several themes: the individual versus society, freedom versus limitation, the process of coming of age, and the importance of emotions.

In the beginning of the novel, Jonas accepts the rules of the community and wants to fit in. There are rules against bragging or pointing out differences and indicators of individual distinction. The community rules ensure that people will not do or say anything that breaks 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 the experience of distinction, of becoming an individual, makes Jonas uncomfortable. Confronted with a homogenous society indifferent to many issues, Jonas realizes that he can no longer maintain his relationships with his friends and family.

This theme is deepened with issues about freedom versus limitation. The community members are bounded by limitations in all aspects of life. They do not choose their careers, their spouses, or their appearances. Nor do they choose when they will have children or how many. While community members exercise choice in some instances—such as choices around volunteering and recreating—such choices are made in a carefully controlled context. Jonas, after learning about colors and sensations, begins to wish for simple choices, like being able to choose clothes based on colors that he likes or letting Gabriel choose a toy to play with based on its color. Individual choices may be dangerous (“wrong”), which is why the community opted to get rid of them.

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. After Twelve, people stop keeping track of their ages and simply transition into full adulthood and then again to being simply Old. When Jonas learns that he can lie and that perhaps other adults lie, he begins to doubt some of the “truths” preserved by the community, such as that the community has always existed.

The quality of Jonas’s emotions changes dramatically over the course of the novel, and this transition binds the other three themes together. After experiencing intense memories, Jonas understands that the emotions of his family and friends are shallow. The community requires all adults to take pills for “Stirrings,” thereby dulling all of their emotions. When Jonas asks his parents if they love him, they chastise him for being imprecise with language, implying that they may not love him. They may be incapable of love due to their narcotized emotions. Jonas stops taking the pill and experiences all of his...

(The entire section is 2,534 words.)