The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
During their customary morning ritual, Jonas typically does not contribute a great deal to the family's communal retelling of their dreams. However, last night, Jonas had a particularly vivid dream. He waits while Lily recounts a dream about breaking the rules and being caught and his mother recounts her own dream. After the family finishes discussing the possible significance of these dreams, Jonas begins retelling his dream.
In Jonas's dream, he was in the bathing room at the House of Old, but rather than bathing one of the Olds, he was alone and half-dressed with Fiona standing next to a tub. He explains that he feels uneasy because in the dream, he tried to convince Fiona to get into the tub so that he could bathe her, although she refused. At his parents' prompting, he explains the feeling of wanting that he felt. After his recounting, Father offers to walk Lily to school, while Mother asks Jonas to wait, promising to write an apology to his instructor for being late.
Mother explains to Jonas that the feeling of wanting is his first Stirrings, which according to the announcements are supposed to be reported. Since he has reported it by mentioning it in the dream-telling, his mother gives him pills which will suppress the Stirrings. His mother confirms that many of his groupmates already take the pills and that eventually everyone will until they join the House of the Old. As Jonas rides his bike to school, he feels proud to join the adults in taking the pills, but at the same time, he secretly wishes that he could feel the Stirrings again.
Over Lily's protests, Mother ties ribbons onto Lily's hair so that they will not fall loose like they do when Lily ties them. Lily looks forward to becoming a Nine, when she will no longer have to wear her ribbons and will obtain her bicycle, but Jonas reminds her that other years also have benefits. For example, today she will begin volunteer hours, and last year, she was able to wear a front-buttoned jacket for the first time rather than a back-buttoned one, permitting her to get dressed without the help of her groupmates. Cheered, Lily teases Jonas and claims that she hopes he will be assigned to be a Pilot.
Everyone in the community gathers at the Auditorium for the Ceremony, while Jonas's father joins the Nurturers with the newchildren on the stage. Father does not have Gabe, since Gabe was granted an extra year of nurturing before his Naming--rather than being released as was customary. Everyone in the family has agreed not to become too attached to Gabe, even though he will spend his nights in their home, since he will be given to a new family unit the following year. Jonas is glad that Gabe has not been released because those who are released never return.
During the first Ceremony, the Nurturers hand the newchildren to their new family units. Asher and Jonas reminisce about when Asher received a younger sister, while Fiona waits with her parents to receive her brother, who is named Bruno. The Naming of Caleb is particularly emotional since he is a replacement child for the previous Caleb, who had fallen into the river and drowned. The Ceremony of Loss was performed at his death, and at the new Caleb's naming, the community performs the Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony to welcome him. Another newchild is named Roberto, but since the previous Roberto had lived a full life and was properly released, the community does not perform an extra ceremony for him. The ceremonies continue until the Ceremony of Eight, where Lily marches on the stage and receives a new jacket while listening to a speech about the responsibilities of being Eight.
The next day, Jonas sits through the Ceremony of Nine, although he cringes at the sight of the clumsy Fritz, whose awkward albeit minor transgressions have worried everyone because they reflect poorly on the community's sense of success. The Nines receive bicycles, although most of them have already secretly learned to ride. At Ten, the children have their hair cut into older styles, and at Eleven, the children only receive small upgrades and wait until they turn Twelve. At lunch, the Twelves wait anxiously as Asher recounts horror stories about people who received bad Assignments or who did not fit in and consequently asked to join another community by applying for Elsewhere, after which they disappeared. Jonas feels somewhat less worried, reasoning that even the Matching of Spouses has been carefully considered by the Committee of Elders. Finally, after the midday break concludes, everyone reenters the Auditorium for the Ceremony of Twelve.
Chapter 5 deals primarily with the reaction to Jonas' dream and his experience of the Stirrings, which are clearly an early manifestation of adult sexuality. Jonas's dream is relatively innocuous, as it merely involves bathing Fiona and is clearly the result of his recent volunteer hours at the House of the Old. Although it seems innocent, the dream is erotic and thus must be suppressed. Jonas knows in his heart that the Stirrings are a positive thing, as is shown when he almost immediately regrets beginning to take the pills, but he decides to follow the tenets of his society, in which he completely believes despite his minor doubts.
The suppression of sexuality in the community is particularly unusual because it goes beyond avoiding overt sexuality to the point of simply eradicating natural human urges. Members of the community begin their use of the pill around the age of Eleven or Twelve and do not cease the treatment until they have joined the House of the Old. In this sense, even the adults in the community are infantilized and prevented from enjoying the full range of adult emotions. In addition, the pill's use suggests that even spouses in stable family units remain chaste, and the Assignment of Birthmother indicates that sex may not even be necessary for procreation. In this manner, a certain level of freedom is taken away from the society's citizens.
The details of the first half of the long-awaited Ceremony, as described in Chapter 6, are less unsettling than the revelations of Chapter 5, as they largely deal with the more positive traits of Jonas's society. Jonas is reminded of the excitement of each year's Ceremony, as the children advance and gain new skills that will serve them as adults. The Ceremony seems familiar and reassuring to Jonas, while the extreme regimentation will be alarming to the reader, since children's lives and development are so closely controlled. The many ceremonies emphasize the communal nature of this society, but some discordant notes remain that remind us that all is not as perfect as this society has tried to be.
The Naming of Caleb is performed to replace the memory of the previous Caleb, who had drowned in a rare accidental death. The descriptions of the Ceremony of Loss and of the Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony are on the one hand simple and comforting, allowing the community to grieve together for the loss of a child and to celebrate the newchild that will replace him. On the other hand, the second Caleb is intended strictly as a replacement so that the community will not remember the first Caleb as a unique individual. The Ceremony of Loss allows Caleb's memory to fade from the communal consciousness, which can be seen as an aspect of the rejection of memory that later becomes important.
Although the beginning of Chapter 6 shows a familiar scene of family interaction, the example of Fritz serves to indicate that the community's family unit is not entirely similar to our modern conception of the family. The parents have not succeeded with Fritz not because their child is bad or unethical, but rather because he is awkward and clumsy. Furthermore, others are worried because it "infringe[s] on the community's sense of order and success." Family units, as the narrative makes clear, are simply a unit of the community intended to create rule-obeying citizens, rather than a sacred circle with a sense of independence from society’s reach.
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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