The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
Jonas feels uneasy, but he knows that "frightened" is not the correct word. He has been truly frightened only once before, when a plane flew off course over the community a year ago. During the incident, an announcement over the speakers ordered everyone inside, and Jonas had been afraid as he saw the silent, waiting community. However, the speakers soon explained that a Pilot-in-Training had made a navigational mistake and that the pilot would be released from the community for his error, which is the worst possible fate for members of the community. Upon recalling this event, Jonas confirms that his current feelings do not represent fear. He remembers that his teachers have taught him to be careful with his terminology, unlike his friend Asher, who often uses the wrong word, and he decides that rather than feeling frightened, he feels apprehensive about upcoming events this December.
After dinner, Jonas's family holds the customary ritual of the telling of feelings. His younger sister Lily goes first by explaining the anger that she felt today when someone from a visiting group of Sevens, or seven-year-olds, did not obey the rules about waiting in line. She compares the boy to an animal, but she is not exactly sure what an animal is, and she recalls that she made a fist at him. Lily's parents remind her of a past experience when she was a Six and had felt out of place while visiting a different community of Sixes, and Lily decides that she now feels sorry for the Seven, who must have felt like a stranger, rather than angry at him.
Jonas's father speaks of a weak infant at the nursery whom he is going to temporarily bring home in order to provide better care, since if the baby cannot recover he will have to be released. Lily wants to keep the baby, but Mother reminds Lily that each family unit can have only one son and one daughter. Next, they comfort Mother after she relates a tale about a repeat offender who came before her at the Department of Justice for a second time, knowing that she is upset at the possibility of release should the man break the rules for a third time.
Jonas feels worried enough that he does not particularly wish to share his feelings, but he knows that to hide them is against the rules. Consequently, when it is his turn to speak, he explains that he feels apprehensive about the approaching Ceremony of Twelve. In response, his parents send Lily to bed because they wish to speak privately with Jonas.
At his father's prompting, Jonas recalls all the changes that result each December, beginning with the Ceremony of Ones when all fifty of the children born during the year turn One and are brought to the community stage by Nurturers such as Jonas's father. During this ceremony the Naming occurs, and Jonas's mother reminds him of when Lily had been named and given to their family. Father admits that this year he looked at the list of names ahead of time so that he could call his struggling infant (number Thirty-six) by his real name, Gabriel, which he shortens to Gabe.
Father recalls that when he was Eleven and waiting for the Ceremony of Twelve, he barely remembered anything other than the Ceremony of Nine, during which his sister got a bicycle. Unlike the vast majority of other rules, the rule that children cannot learn to ride bicycles before they get their official ones is generally ignored and goes unpunished. No one has managed to revise the rule, however, since putting anything through a committee takes years, and it is not important enough to bring before The Receiver.
Unlike Jonas, his father had more or less known that the Committee of Elders would give him the Assignment of Nurturer, since he spent most of his volunteer hours working with the newchildren. Jonas knows that the Elders observe all the Elevens closely to give them Assignments that are both appropriate and satisfying for each individual. Jonas worries a little that the Elders will have trouble assigning something for Asher, but his parents reassure him.
Jonas's parents also remind him that after the Ceremony of Twelve, he will work mostly with his Assignment group in training, so he may make new friends while drifting apart from friends such as Asher, although Jonas resists this latter idea. His parents reassure him that he will still have fun while Lily interrupts to request her comfort object, which is the stuffed version of an imaginary creature called an elephant. Jonas returns to his homework, feeling reassured but still somewhat nervous about what Assignment the Elders will give him.
Throughout the plot of The Giver, we experience the protagonist Jonas's society in two ways, first through his point of view as told through third-person limited narration, and second as the modern observer of a future society, via a modern point of view. Through the first lens, we initially experience Jonas's community as a constructed utopia, where the citizens lead a safe and peaceful existence and where the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve is a source of anticipation but not, as Jonas explains, fear. However, a second point of view of The Giver develops from the first sentence and chapter of the novel to create an image of a dystopia instead.
Within the exposition of the plot, the utopian characteristics of Jonas's society are at first unmistakable. If orderliness and security are key virtues, then the community of The Giver provides these in excess, as even the occasional misdirected airplane is quickly and efficiently handled, and as each citizen remains assured that his future vocation and family will be eminently suited to his personality. The ubiquity of bicycles has essentially eliminated dangerous vehicles such as gasoline-powered cars. In addition, the citizens have been raised from early childhood to learn such virtues as sharing and interpreting their feelings with their families each evening and using precise language, as shown by Jonas's example of Asher, who throughout the novel serves as a foil for Jonas.
The community's apparently utopian nature draws especially on some ideas of the commune, in which all citizens contribute to and partake in the society with apparently few class differences. Although some jobs are held in higher esteem than others, citizens are taught from early childhood to respect all professions and to treat others with respect. When Lily expresses frustration at a playmate that breaks the rules at the nightly sharing of feelings, her parents teach her to consider the thoughts and emotions of others in order to understand their behavior. Over the course of the novel, the ideas of equality and sameness are continually upheld by the community.
Despite the community's many idyllic traits, when we interpret The Giver as an observer outside of Jonas's society, we begin to see several discordant notes that are distinctly dystopian rather than utopian. Most importantly, the enforcement of rigid rules is often shown to be harsh and to be so everpresent as to limit personal choice and freedom severely. All major aspects of Jonas's future, such as his spouse, job, and children, will be assigned by the community. The society appears to be communist and socialist with elements of totalitarianism, even though the rules and practices appear to be well-intentioned and are usually not resisted. Furthermore, the concept of release immediately raises alarms, as the question arises of what happens to the unfortunate pilot-in-training and to people who have broken the rules three times. In addition, the lack of animals in the novel serves as a reminder that this society is lacking some vital elements.
Lowry has created an unsettling mood of fear from the opening sentence. December, which heralds the beginning of winter, is foreshadowed as a significant month throughout the book, first as the time of the Ceremony of Twelve and later in the novel as connected to Jonas's experience of snow. At the same time, although Jonas comforts himself, the fear to which he refers in the initial paragraph remains in the novel's suspenseful tone, and we come to echo Jonas's anticipation, which is made even stronger by the displacement of the community in time and space. Although the narration provides hints that allow us to glimpse how the society relates in time to our own modern day, our confusion about Jonas's circumstances provides suspense that leaves us nervous and on edge.
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
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
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