The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
Jonas's group sits at the front of the Auditorium in original birth order. Jonas's number is Nineteen, although his parents have rarely used his number other than to scold him. Technically two Elevens have the number Nineteen, Jonas and a girl named Harriet, who before today was a Ten, but after the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas's age will no longer matter. Asher sits in front of Jonas while Jonas sits between Fiona, who is Eighteen, and Pierre, who is Twenty and a bit of a tattletale.
The Chief Elder, who is elected by the community every ten years, gives a speech and tells the group that although they have been taught to fit in with the group rather than differentiate themselves, the Ceremony of Twelve is a time to honor their differences, which will determine their future. Jonas listens to all of the Chief Elder's anonymous descriptions of various Elevens as he tries to identify each person, but he hears nothing that he can recognize as himself. Number One is Madeline, who receives an Assignment as a Fish Hatchery Attendant, and Jonas is happy for her, although he is relieved that someone else received that Assignment. Number Two, Inger, is to become a Birthmother, which despite Mother's disparagement of the job is nonetheless an important post, and number Three receives the Assignment of Instructor of Sixes.
Upon Asher's turn, the Chief Elder jokes about Asher's past difficulties with language acquisition and his tendency to mix up words, which recalls an incident when he was three when he asked for a smack rather than a snack and was given a smack with the discipline wand so that he would learn to use language more precisely. Asher had for a while stopped talking altogether because he could not stop himself from confusing the two words, but as the Chief Elder notes, Asher finally corrected his problems, and he has always lived with good humor. He is given the Assignment of Assistant Director of Recreation, and the Chief Elder thanks him for his childhood.
Relieved that Asher has received a good Assignment, Jonas waits as the other Elevens in front of him receive their Assignment badges and think about whatever training lies ahead of them. When Fiona is called, she serenely receives the Assignment of Caretaker of the Old, and Jonas prepares himself to go next. However, the Chief Elder then calls number Twenty, Pierre, and the crowd hushes as they realize that something strange has occurred. Jonas is stunned and hopes wildly that someone has made a mistake, but even his group leader looks worried. Ashamed, he sinks into his seat and wonders what he has done wrong.
By the time of the last Assignment, the audience's applause is expressing confusion and unease, and Jonas is humiliated and terrified. After the applause dissipates, the Chief Elder apologizes graciously to the community and to Jonas in particular for causing them anxiety, and she calls him to the stage. He walks clumsily to the stage, and she tells him that he has not been assigned because he has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, which astonishes and awes the audience, although he does not understand.
The Chief Elder explains that the community only has one Receiver, who will train Jonas personally. Jonas sees that she watches one of the men on the Committee of Elders, who has pale eyes and who seems separate from the other Elders. The Chief Elder also explains that ten years ago, the previous selection of a Receiver failed, so they have selected Jonas with great care because they cannot afford a second failure. Unlike the people who receive Assignments, who sometimes require observation and adjustment as they grow older and receive their training, the Receiver-in-training will not be observed or modified by the community. Instead, he must stand apart and be prepared only by the current Receiver, a fact which worries Jonas.
The Chief Elder goes on to say that the Committee chose him unanimously after years of observation and that they have had no doubts about his selection. Jonas has shown intelligence, integrity, and courage, the latter of which is, as The Receiver continually reminded them, extremely important. She warns Jonas that he will face pain beyond what the rest of the community has experienced or can imagine. The Chief Elder adds that Jonas has the ability to acquire wisdom during his training and finally states that he has the Capacity to See Beyond, which neither she nor the rest of the community has.
Jonas doubts his ability to "see beyond" for a moment until he sees a brief change as he looks at the crowd that reminds him of the peculiar incident when he saw something strange with the apple. He confirms that he sees something that may be beyond, and she thanks him for his childhood before leaving the stage. Jonas remains on the stage as the crowd crescendos in a chanting of his name, giving him new life, which heartens him even while he feels fear at his prospects in becoming a Receiver.
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the extremely important Ceremony of Twelve, in which the former Elevens officially enter the adult world and receive their Assignments, which will determine their vocations for their working lives until they enter the House of the Old. The Assignment process and Ceremony of Twelve is unique because, as the Chief Elder notes, it is one of the few times of the year in which individual differences are celebrated instead of communal values. Even this society thus acknowledges the need for a division of labor. Each child is thanked for his particular childhood, and Assignments are made that honor the differences of those such as Asher, who usually tends to get in trouble for failing to conform to community standards. Although the community values what is the same over what is different, the Ceremony of Twelve acknowledges that all people are not identical.
Despite the acknowledgement of differences that is represented by the Ceremony of Twelve, the Elevens are officially called to the stage by their number of birth in that year, which removes some of the personal identity of the participants. As Jonas notes, there are currently two Eleven-Nineteens, Jonas and Harriet, so for a brief time even his number is not unique to him. The Chief Elder speaks of the personal qualities of each individual, but the structure of the Ceremony and this use of names serve as reminders that each person is primarily just one number among many in the community.
Asher fortunately receives a good and apt Assignment, that of Assistant Director of Recreation, but the Chief Elder's account of the three-year-old Asher nonetheless reminds us that the community often harshly enforces standardization of things such as language. The young Asher had confused the words "snack" and "smack," leading to a smack from the discipline wand to teach him a lesson. However, the intended lesson only served to discourage Asher, who could not fix his words and who for a while stopped talking entirely. Asher eventually learned his lesson, but the incident shows the severity of the society's system for punishing those who do not conform exactly to the standard.
The manner in which Jonas's Assignment is given seems at first to fulfill Jonas's initial sense of worried anticipation in Chapter 1, as his number is skipped without comment at the Ceremony. The change immediately worries everyone in the audience, as the citizens of the community are too used to everything running smoothly to handle the situation easily. Using this method to single Jonas out is somewhat cruel, as it shames the confused Jonas for no reason and causes him mental anguish, if only for a brief time. This sense of pain and loneliness prior to becoming the new Receiver of Memory foreshadows Jonas's future of pain and loneliness after he begins his training.
The remainder of Chapter 8 reminds Jonas and the community of those characteristics that set Jonas apart as an individual, while somewhat ominously predicting that he will need courage to be The Receiver, which is an honored and apparently special position in the community. While the Chief Elder is integrated into the society despite his particular role as a leader, The Receiver is set apart like some kind of spiritual sage with special powers, rights, and responsibilities yet to be revealed. In particular, Jonas's Capacity to See Beyond again appears after the Chief Elder cites it, and he realizes that the incident with the apple was not a strange coincidence. The crowd honors him with a chanting of his name, but Jonas again feels a sensation akin to fear, and this time he does not question the preciseness of his language in thinking the word.
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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