The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
Jonas no longer wants the memories, but he returns every day to the Annex knowing that others are free to live without anguish because he bears their burdens. After sharing memories of war, the Giver gives Jonas a number of happy memories so that he knows the joys of individuality and of art. He also remembers riding a horse and the bonds between animals and humans, and he learns the joys as well as the pain of solitude. He asks The Giver for his favorite memory, which the old man gladly gives him.
The memory is of a family sharing presents on Christmas, although he does not know the holiday's name, and Jonas experiences the warmth and happiness of the memory. He learns that old people have not always been relegated to a place of respect in the House of the Old, but in fact used to be grandparents. Jonas realizes that he has never known who the parents of his parents are. The information is in the Hall of Open Records, but The Giver reminds him that when he has children, his mother and father will be living with the Childless Adults or eventually with the House of the Old and will no longer be a part of his life. Jonas and Lily will not attend their release celebration because they will be too busy with their own lives, and their children will not know their grandparents.
Jonas sees why the community's method of creating family units is practical, but he wonders what the name of the overall feeling of the memory was. The Giver names it as love. Jonas hesitantly tells him that although having the Old in the same place as the rest of the family is impractical and may cause the Old to be less fully cared for, the family in the memory felt more complete. He guiltily wishes that society were still that way but momentarily convinces himself in his guilt that it is too dangerous, naming the fire as a hazard before admitting that it was also pleasant.
After the evening meal, Jonas asks his parents if they love him. Amused, Father admonishes him for not using language precisely. Mother tells him that the word "love" is so generalized as to be meaningless, and they suggest questions such as "Do you enjoy me?" or "Do you take pride in my accomplishments?" as more appropriate questions, to which the answer is "Yes." Jonas completely disagrees but lies to them for the first time and tells them that he understands. Later, he talks to the sleeping Gabe, who now cries in the night unless Jonas is in the room, and tells him that life could be different with things such as love. Jonas also decides to cease taking his pill for the Stirrings.
On an unscheduled holiday, Jonas leaves home to look for Asher, thinking on the way about the Stirrings that have returned and about his new ability to feel, both from the absence of pills and from his training. He can now see colors all the time, and he knows a great deal about Elsewhere through his memories. His feelings now have more depth than those analyzed every evening. Lily's story about the boy who broke rules in the play area was exasperation rather than anger, the latter of which Jonas has experienced because of knowing cruelty, something that he could never discuss calmly at dinner. Similarly, his mother's emotion of sadness was too easily comforted to be classified as real grief. Jonas understands how to feel emotions so deep they do not need to be told, and today, he is happy.
When he looks for Asher at the play area, he sees Tanya, an Eleven, being play-ambushed in a game by Asher. For the first time, Jonas recognizes this not only as a game of good guys and bad guys but also as a game of war. He watches the children attacking and pretending to fall on the ground, but when Asher pretends to hit him, he remembers the boy who lay dying on the field of battle, and he remains standing, trying not to cry. The children leave nervously, and he asks Asher to stop playing that game. Asher refuses, saying that games are his expertise, although he apologizes for being disrespectful to the new Receiver. Jonas tries to explain the cruelty of the game but gives up. Fiona offers to ride with him along the river, which he would normally love to do, but he no longer feels that he can. His friends ride away, leaving him feeling friendless because they cannot understand what he feels.
At home, Lily chatters about the bicycle she will receive in a month while Gabe learns to walk. The scene cheers Jonas, who anticipates teaching Lily to ride. Father mentions that he will have to select the twin that will go Elsewhere and perform a Ceremony of Release, although he will not be the one to take it Elsewhere. Lily speculates about another community receiving the twin, so that there are two children of the same name and age who meet each other in the future during a visit to another community. Mother suggests that Lily might receive the Assignment of Storyteller, which sets Lily off on another story until Father sends her to bed.
Gaining a memory of war deeply affects Jonas, who knows that everyone in his community is able to live a carefree, ordinary existence because of his suffering and the suffering of the past. It is for this reason that the behavior of Asher and the children in the play area nearly causes Jonas to break down. He understands that they do not understand that their imitation war game is cruel and representative of terrible suffering, but their inability to understand further isolates and frustrates him. The incident shows how their innocence of war makes playing at war possible, and it also highlights the lack of understanding that Asher and Fiona have about certain aspects of life as it used to be.
Although the experience of war was horrible, Jonas finds that it has helped widen his capacity to feel and to live life to the fullest on both ends of the spectrum. Having experienced true pain, anger, and fear, he also is now able to experience the simple pleasure of having an unscheduled holiday and to appreciate its qualities more fully. In addition, The Giver exposes him to memories of art and of the happier side of solitude, and finally he receives the memory of love, which raises new questions for Jonas about why this society must be the way that it is, lacking love or strong emotion.
In a second conversation with The Giver, Jonas struggles with the idea of love, as his instinctive knowledge of the value of love comes into conflict with those values that he has been taught for much of his life. The result of his confusion is that he nearly convinces himself that sprawling families and the presence of grandparents are less practical and thus worse than temporary but utilitarian family units with a special center for the Old. Further evidence of the dominance of practicality in the community's customs appears in Jonas's subsequent conversation with his parents, whose refusal to acknowledge that they love him adds a sinister aspect to the concept of a family in Jonas's society.
Jonas's decision to accept the Stirrings and cease taking the pill each day reflects his repudiation of the absence of love and emotion in his community. His society, which at first seemed so innocent and happy, has proven to be dystopian. Its practical rejection of unwanted individual variations and the experience of pain has also inadvertently led to an inability to feel deep positive emotions, such as love. The suppression of the Stirrings may originally have been an attempt to reduce the complications that often result from human sexuality, but it has instead served as another means of ridding the society of all emotions, both good and bad.
At the end of Chapter 17, release is yet again mentioned without any explanation of its true nature, but Father is due to release the weaker one of two newborn twins and take it Elsewhere. Lily's assumptions about the nature of Elsewhere are similar to Jonas's in that they both imagine Elsewhere to be perhaps another community that is in need of another newchild. However, Jonas's father's description of release, as comforting as it is, answers few questions about what actually happens in Elsewhere. Jonas's lifelong indoctrination by the community is evident in that he does not think to ask any real questions about the release process or its results.
The Giver Essays and Related Content
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- 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
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