Individuality and freedom of choiceBy eliminating as much personal variation as possible in favor of Sameness and a predictable society, Jonas's community has rejected the truly utopian possibilities of a society where people are free to move society forward. The result is a dystopia of conformity. A series of conversations between Jonas and The Giver shows that the totalitarian rationale for restricting each person's choice of clothing, job, spouse, and children results from the fear of making wrong choices. Yet, as Jonas realizes after he escapes from the community, he would rather be able to choose his destiny than remain in the safety of a community that normally does not even allow its citizens to choose their time and manner of death. Although the possibility of individual choice sometimes involves risk, it also exposes Jonas to a wide range of joyful experiences from which his community has been shut away. His conversations with The Giver lead him to understand both the advantages and the disadvantages of personal choice, and in the end, he considers the risks worth the benefits.
The dangers of stability and predictabilityAs explained by The Giver, a key aspect of their society's decision to establish Sameness rather than expose people to the risks of climate variation or mistaken choices was their desire to remain safe from the pains that humanity and nature used to suffer. In one of Benjamin Franklin's classic formulations, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety," and Jonas's society has permanently chosen safety over liberty. The disadvantages of this choice become all too clear as, for example, the citizens do not question their way of life or even their orders to kill the young and the Old through release. Furthermore, the absence of pain in their society desensitizes them to emotions, including positive emotions. The Giver portrays what might today be called an extreme kind of "sustainable" society, one in stasis that can neither draw lessons from its mistakes nor remember its mistakes to prevent future ones, especially without the aid of The Receiver. This is a society in which the humans cannot be said to be fulfilling themselves as human beings; their development is stunted in many ways in the name of stability and predictability.
The importance of human emotionWhereas the nightly sharing of feelings is intended to explain away and resolve the emotions of the day, Jonas learns that the most important emotions are those that cannot be explained or discussed but only felt, such as the Stirrings or the love of a family. In many cases over the course of the novel, Jonas instinctively feels that something is right but allows his intellect to convince him that it is wrong, such as when he takes the pills to counteract the Stirrings or when he tries to argue to The Giver that love and family can be very dangerous. Yet, by the end of the novel, Jonas has learned to embrace the full range of human emotion, including to an extent the negative ones, and he allows his emotions and instinct to inform his actions. In contrast, the other citizens of the community, such as Fiona and Jonas's father, have not learned to allow their emotions to reveal their character and help them develop a sense of right and wrong, so they feel no guilt at delivering lethal injections as part of their jobs.
The relationship between memory and wisdomAs The Receiver of Memory, The Giver has to draw upon his memories of mankind's most terrible experiences in order to advise the Committee of Elders whenever they have an unusual experience, such as that of the rogue plane, or when they want to change the rules, such as adding a third child to each family unit. It is also reiterated a number of times that although Jonas has little true wisdom at the beginning of the novel, he learns it through his new memories and through his discussion of these memories with The Giver. In the end, his respect for human life as gained through the memories allows him to understand what he must do in order to benefit the larger community. Meanwhile, the lack of memories held by the rest of the community prevents them from adjusting their own destinies wisely, so they remain terrified of change and are forced to remain in a static, stagnant existence.
Utopia and dystopiaAs with many societies that ultimately end up as dystopias in literature, Jonas's community initially appears designed to be a utopia. The society is safe, there are few premature deaths, Jonas's family seems to be loving and supportive, and Jonas has learned to value sharing, equality, and honesty, among other virtues. However, the safety of the society is shown to be equivalent to stagnation, and members of the society become so obedient and unquestioning that they do not even question the value of release if their jobs require that they sometimes euthanize individuals. Ultimately, The Giver shows that the line between utopia and dystopia may be thin, since a lack of moderation in values such as security often results in the curbing of liberty and the rejection of wisdom. We gradually see the apparent utopia turn into a dystopia through the eyes of Jonas, who finally breaks with the tenets of his society after witnessing his father's release of the twin baby.
Loneliness and isolationJonas has learned from early childhood to conform and be part of the collective, so when he is selected as The Receiver of Memory, he immediately feels the loneliness that comes from being a special individual in a society where almost everyone is merely a cog in the larger wheel. His memories of tragedies such as war further alienate him from his friends, even as he grows closer to The Giver and to Gabriel, both of whom can share his memories and who thus eventually form two branches of his new de facto family. The loneliness forces Jonas to view his community from a more critical standpoint as he begins to see the weaknesses in the system. Yet, from his isolation he also learns the value of love and belonging as he experiences it through The Giver's memory. In addition, Jonas eventually learns the joys of solitude, which is a positive way of experiencing aloneness.
DeathThe concept of release is introduced early in the novel, during Jonas's anecdote about the Pilot-in-Training who mistakenly flies over the community. The concept is continually and mysteriously mentioned without sufficient explanation until nearly the end of the novel. The mysteriousness of death and Elsewhere echoes the uncertainty about death that humans face during their lifetime. Multiple kinds of release are explored in the novel. The Old are released at the end of a long, fulfilled life, and citizens such as Roberto are often joyful at their Releasing Ceremony. Meanwhile, those who make significant mistakes or break the rules, such as the Pilot-in-Training, are summarily executed. The punishment appears overly harsh and adds to the community's dystopian aura. Furthermore, in the cases of Gabriel and the twin, some are executed for no reason at all except that it is inconvenient not to do so. Jonas finds the latter category of killings to be the most offensive of all because they truncate entire lives. Jonas finds such outrages particularly heinous because he has developed an increased appreciation for individual human life due to his received memories.
The Giver Essays and Related Content
- The Giver: Major Themes
- The Giver: Questions
- The Giver: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Lois Lowry: Biography
- The Giver Summary
- About The Giver
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-17
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23
- Utopia and Dystopia in Literary and Historical Context
- Related Links on The Giver
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
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