The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
When Jonas's father brings Gabriel home, Lily notes that the newchild has the same pale eyes as Jonas, which Jonas resents because society does not consider it polite to mention when an individual is somehow different from others. Most people in the community, with the exception of Jonas and one of the Fives, have dark eyes, and Lily speculates that Gabe and Jonas share a Birthmother. Mirrors are uncommon, and Jonas has never spent much time looking into one, but he remembers upon seeing Gabe that the light eyes have more depth and solemnity than regular eyes.
Lily is enchanted by Gabe and hopes that she will be assigned as a Birthmother, since she likes newchildren and has heard that Birthmothers live pleasant, easy lives. Mother, however, notes that after three births, they become laborers until they enter the House of the Old. Father suggests instead that Lily might wish to become a Nurturer and should try some volunteer hours at the Nurturing Center when she turns Eight.
Jonas imagines Lily as a Speaker, which reminds him of an occasion when the Speaker reminded the male Elevens that snacks should be eaten rather than taken home. Knowing that the general announcement was nevertheless directed specifically at him, the remorseful Jonas returned the apple that he had taken and apologized to the Recreation Director. However, he remains puzzled by the incident, since he noticed a brief and inexplicable change in the apple's appearance as he and Asher were playing catch with it. Asher noticed nothing different about the apple, but for a moment, the apple had not been the same nondescript shade as his shirt. After he took the apple home to examine it, however, he saw nothing significant about it and returned it the next day, per the Speaker's orders.
The following day, Jonas decides to spend his volunteer hours on the same activity as Asher. He has always cherished these hours because unlike during the rest of his day, he has the freedom to choose how to spend his time, although the initial lack of structure often makes the Eights somewhat nervous as they begin volunteering for the first time. Eventually, the children usually gravitate toward interesting jobs that often represent their future Assignments, as in the case of Benjamin, who has spent all his time at the Rehabilitation Center working with injured citizens of the community and has thus gained an advanced amount of skill in that area. Jonas has never complimented Benjamin for his work, however, since he does not want to push Benjamin into a situation where he might accidentally break the rule against bragging.
Jonas rides around the community, looking for Asher's bicycle, which he eventually finds at the House of the Old next to Fiona's bicycle. Jonas signs in, knowing that his volunteer hours will be counted at the Hall of Open Records and remembering rumors of an Eleven who had not completed the necessary number of hours and had disgracefully not received his Assignment until he completed them a month after the Ceremony of Twelve. The attendant notes that a release this morning has thrown the schedule off, and she asks Jonas to join Asher and Fiona in the bathing room.
Jonas muses that he is glad that he chose to complete his hours in many places so that he could experience a variety of tasks, but he realizes that his choice has left him with very little idea about his future Assignment. After entering the bathing room, he greets Fiona and Asher before bathing one of the Old, named Larissa. Children and adults are required not to look at each other's naked bodies, but the rule does not apply to newchildren or the Old, for which Jonas is thankful.
Larissa tells Jonas about the event earlier in the morning when they celebrated Roberto's release and told his whole life's story. Unlike Edna, who had been a Birthmother before working in Food Production and who had never had a family unit, Roberto had lived a very interesting life as an Instructor of Elevens and as a member of the Planning Committee. Larissa explains that a celebration of release entails the telling of his life, a toast, the chanting of the anthem, his good-bye speech, and a few more speeches. Afterward, the excited Roberto bowed and walked into the Releasing Room. No one but the committee knows what occurs in the Releasing Room, and children are not allowed to attend.
In these two chapters, Jonas's experiences in his home and around the community begin to further cement details of the society's structure, although the initial sense of fear in the narrative's tone fades somewhat to the background. Chapters 3 and 4 provide some background information about volunteer hours and seemingly wonderful jobs as Nurturer and as Caretaker at the House of the Old. At the same time, they also emphasize the adherence to Sameness and downplaying of individuality that characterizes the dystopian aspects of the community. Finally, the concept of release from the community again appears, raising continued and unsettling questions about its nature.
As shown by Lily's teasing of Jonas's unusual characteristics and Jonas's inner dialogue about Benjamin, a sense of equality and community is imposed by societal standards and by rules such as those against bragging. However, this equality appears to go beyond the simple celebration of what all citizens have in common to the point of downplaying and in some cases denying individuality. Jonas is careful not to compliment Benjamin for fear of forcing Benjamin to be proud of his work, while Lily's teasing of Jonas and Gabriel's pale eyes is evidently enough to strike a nerve. Jonas resents her comments even hough they refer to something as harmless as the tint of one's eyes. Curiously, almost everyone in the community appears to have dark eyes, reflecting surprisingly little genetic variation.
The distinction between pale and dark eyes becomes especially important because of a subtle but interesting detail in the remainder of Chapter 3. The apple's changing was a strange event, suggesting that Jonas is somehow special and different from Asher, who continues to be Jonas's foil and who in this case represents the viewpoint of the rest of the community, who see nothing unusual about the apple. Significantly, however, the narration describes the apple as typically of the same nondescript shade as Jonas's clothing, which strikes a discordant note. Whether red or green, apples are never of a nondescript shade, and in this sentence, we get our first hint that color is somehow important to the plot. Stealing the apple is obviously an allusion to Genesis, where the forbidden fruit represents forbidden knowledge of good and evil and the promise of death to whoever takes and eats of the fruit--foreshadowing Jonas's fate.
In Chapter 4, volunteer hours are shown to be an important aspect of life before the age of twelve, as they allow children to gravitate toward appropriate jobs that may later lead to their permanent vocations. Thus far, the two main professions that have been spotlighted are that of Nurturer and that of Caretaker of the Old, which suggests that they will later in the novel be of special significance to Jonas. Both roles share the goal of caring for those who are unable to contribute to society, and the Caretaker role has the added role of honoring those who have lived long lives. Notably, Jonas mentions that newchildren and the Old are exempted from the rule preventing people from seeing others' nakedness, which is unusual because it appears to desexualize Jonas's society to a possibly unnatural extent.
By the end of Chapter 4, the concept of release has yet again been raised, this time in further detail. Questions remain about the nature of this Elsewhere to which members of the community continually refer, and Larissa does not give any real answers. According to her, the Ceremony of Release is happy because it celebrates a life, but she does not know what happens in the Releasing Room. However, clues have begun to add up. Jonas knows, and we know, that release happens to the Old, weak newchildren, and those who have broken the law. Furthermore, the details of release are not revealed to children in particular, and those who are released are never seen again. Jonas thinks nothing unusual of these details, but we have reason to be alarmed and can suspect that release is a euphemism for euthanasia.
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
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources