It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.
As the first sentence in The Giver, this line bears extra examination. The first clause of the sentence places the initial setting of the plot near the end of the year, symbolically suggesting that Jonas is facing the end of an era in his life and that the society itself is both greatly advanced and rather senescent. At the same time, winter foreshadows the time frame of the novel, which takes place over the course of one year and which ends in the subsequent December in the snow. Given the anticipation of the new year and the hint of winter, the second half of the sentence takes on an especially ominous sense. Jonas later denies that he is truly frightened and instead opts to describe his feeling of foreboding as apprehension, but his instinctive description of fear at the beginning of the novel immediately darkens the tone of the story, readying us for the eventual revelation of the community's dystopian nature.
Then it was in his hand, and he looked at it carefully, but it was the same apple. Unchanged. The same size and shape: a perfect sphere. The same nondescript shade, about the same shade as his own tunic.
In this passage, Jonas observes the apple after it first appears to change in a brief and inexplicable manner during a game of catch with his friend Asher. The subsequent description of the apple emphasizes the theme of Sameness that becomes both more prevalent and more specific in later sections of the novel. The apple is perfect and unchanging, much as Jonas's society is static and apparently ideal. Its shape does not allow for imperfections and the irregularities of individual apples, an ethic that is evident in the structure of the community and in the values taught to the community's children. Finally, Jonas describes the apple's shade as nondescript, throwing an apparently innocent description of the apple's perfection into doubt with an incongruous detail. We know immediately that apples usually manifest in vibrant colors and could never be described as "nondescript." This aspect of the description foreshadows Jonas's ability to see color while indicating that something is missing in the apple's perfection, much as Jonas later discovers a damaging lack of color in his society's apparent flawlessness.
Then, in the same way that his own dwelling slipped away behind him as he rounded a corner on his bicycle, the dream slipped away from his thoughts. Very briefly, a little guiltily, he tried to grasp it back. But the feelings had disappeared. The Stirrings were gone.
This excerpt is at first glance a description of the effect of taking the pill to eliminate the Stirrings, but it also illustrates the ephemeral nature of emotions and memories in the society. Rather than embracing natural human emotions such as those associated with the Stirrings, members of Jonas's community have learned various tactics to erase these emotions altogether. The dream slips away from his thoughts much as the Ceremony of Loss is used to ease the original Caleb from the communal consciousness. Jonas instinctively grasps the importance of the Stirrings as an essential aspect of his nature, but his instinct and his training as a member of his society conflict, as shown by his guilt. However, his training temporarily takes precedence, and the Stirrings disappear.
But the Receiver-in-Training ... is to be alone, apart, while he is prepared by the current Receiver for the job which is the most honored in our community.
For the past twelve years of Jonas's life, his parents and his instructors have taught him the importance of being part of the group and of the community. It is against the rules to set oneself apart by bragging, as Jonas recalls in an earlier chapter. However, as Jonas learns from the Chief Elder, his new position as Receiver-in-Training will force him into a situation for which he has no preparation: in his position he will be alone and apart. The very act of honoring him is the first indicator of Jonas's future solitude, since no other position in the community is said to be more important than others, although some Assignments are often more desirable. These words make Jonas understandably uncomfortable, and as events in the novel unfold, his growing isolation becomes the hardest part of Jonas's training.
The man corrected him. "Honor," he said firmly. "I have great honor. So will you. But you will find that that is not the same as power."
For the first time in the novel, Jonas and The Giver explicitly confront the limited role of The Receiver in their society. The Receiver is revered for his wisdom and for his role as a container of the world's memories, but in the end, his wisdom is almost invariably used to prevent pain and maintain the status quo rather than to change the community for the better. Consequently, The Receiver becomes a martyr for the community, sacrificing his life to hold all their memories and pain. Here, The Giver shows bitterness at his helplessness, which he has accepted for years as a key feature of his position. However, under Jonas's influence, he comes to realize that he does have the power to serve his community, and his choice to remain in the community after Jonas's escape reflects faith in the power of The Receiver rather than hopeless sacrifice.
"Well ..." Jonas had to stop and think it through. "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?"
After The Giver asks Jonas why it is not fair that nothing has color, Jonas realizes that, for him, color is not merely a vibrant aspect of nature. It also represents a level of individual freedom and choice that he has never known in his rigidly controlled society. The quotation is of interest because it forces Jonas to face the disadvantages of his society in a thoughtful and philosophical rather than an instinctive manner. Only after Jonas reconciles his instinct with his rational mind can he offer a conscientious objection to the ways of his community. The quote also puts him at odds with the larger aims of his community, which follows a different code of values.
"Back and back and back." Jonas repeated the familiar phrase. Sometimes it had seemed humorous to him. Sometimes it had seemed meaningful and important.
Now it was ominous. It meant, he knew, that nothing could be changed.
The phrase "back and back and back" has become a minor motif in the novel, as Jonas and The Giver repeat the phrase to each other during their conversations. Jonas has always felt ambiguous about the phrase, knowing that is an important part of being The Receiver, but here he articulates some aspects of the feeling. The origins of the phrase are implied to suggest the gravity and honor of The Receiver's role in the community, but as has become increasingly obvious, the phrase evocative of unending time and history represents a burdening continuity that has forced Jonas and The Giver's actions into inertia. As a result, the phrase at times becomes one of hopelessness rather than one about history.
The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep. Jonas looked over at him.
"There could be love," Jonas whispered.
By the end of the novel, two major realizations about Jonas's community are mainly responsible for Jonas's decision to leave the community. The second realization is about the nature of release, but the first realization is Jonas's discovery of the meaning of love. His parents reject the concept of love as an imprecise and slightly comical idea, but Jonas resorts to sharing his revelation with Gabe, who shares Jonas's capacity for receiving memory and who is still a blank slate without the training of the community that later in life would cause him to reject love. Because Gabriel is able to accept Jonas's love, the two characters form a nearly familial bond that causes Jonas to sacrifice greatly for his surrogate younger brother's sake.
"You suggested, Jonas, that perhaps she wasn't brave enough? I don't know about bravery: what it is, what it means. I do know that I sat here numb with horror. Wretched with helplessness. And I listened as Rosemary told them that she would prefer to inject herself."
In a simple but emotional and eloquent paragraph, The Giver rejects Jonas's suggestion that Rosemary's decision to apply for release was a coward's way out of her responsibility as the new Receiver of Memory. The Giver recalls watching as his own daughter calmly and maturely chose to administer her own suicide, and he implies that although he does not entirely understand Rosemary's point of view, Rosemary certainly did not choose the easy path. The Giver's response also echoes his past decades of inability to change the society's system. Under the strain of loss and pain, he is unable to move and remains The Receiver because of his inertia. However, the experience of Rosemary's actions and Jonas's desire to act changes The Giver's view of his own helplessness while giving him resolve.
Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.
As the last sentence of The Giver, this passage reflects the ambiguity of the novel's ending. Just as we are left unsure about Jonas's fate, we also remain uncertain about the fate of his community. If Jonas's thoughts are in fact not the product of cold, starvation, and hallucination, then the presence of music in his community would indicate that with his departure and the help of The Giver, the community may be in the process of rediscovering the joys of music and color and memory. On the other hand, the suggestion of a vast distance of space may merely indicate the time before Sameness, to which Jonas has a connection that extends beyond his received memories. Finally, the suggestion that the music may only be an echo indicates the possibility that the current state of his society is a pale echo of the past and that they can merely hope to regain individuality and true emotions.
The Giver Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Giver is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Jonas felt that their game was wrong. He felt that the other kids did not understand the gravity of their play war. Jonas understands emotion in a way the others cannot. Jonas stands in the middle of the field: he feels sad and alone.
The quote “back and back and back,” is significant because it is repeated with some bitter irony by Jonas. Jonas is parroting a phrase used by the Giver early in his training sessions to explain the role of a Receiver within the society. Jonas...