Summary and Analysis
Throughout these chapters, Jonas' character grows in complexity as he gains wisdom from the many memories that The Giver transmits to him. Some days, The Giver sends Jonas away because The Giver is in too much pain to be able to train Jonas. Jonas spends this free time by himself, disappointed and worried about his future and about The Giver. Because The Giver must unload some of the pain that he carries, he shares memories of excruciating pain with Jonas. These painful memories, like the pleasurable memories, are lyrical. Lowry's descriptions and imagery are similar to that found in poetry.
In Chapter 13, The Giver transmits a painful memory of an elephant hunt to Jonas, during which an elephant is shot and killed for its tusks. Another elephant walks up to the dead elephant's mutilated body and seemingly comforts the elephant by stroking the dead animal with its trunk and then by covering the elephant with branches. Jonas has never before witnessed or experienced the raw emotional pain that is often felt as a result of the death of a loved one; Jonas has never experienced death.
In the next painful memory conveyed in these chapters, Jonas breaks his leg while riding downhill on a sled and learns about physical pain: "He gasped. It was as if a hatchet lay lodged in his leg, slicing through each nerve with a hot blade. In his agony he perceived the word 'fire' and felt flames licking at the torn bone and flesh." After feeling such intense physical pain, Jonas knows that the people in the community don't really know what pain is. They all live overly protected lives.
The Giver now includes pain in Jonas' everyday training, and, finally, Jonas receives the worst memory of all: the memory of warfare and death. During this memory, he watches a "wild-eyed horse, its bridle torn and dangling, [trot] frantically through the mounds of men, tossing its head, whinnying in panic." Jonas gives water to a wounded boy in the warfare memory and sees the boy die, a "dull blankness [sliding] slowly across his eyes. He was silent." Jonas has experienced human death for the first time.
After receiving these memories, Jonas changes. He feels frustrated and angry as he realizes that his life will never be "ordinary" again. He experiences an inner conflict: On one hand, he wants to go back to the old, insulated, familiar way of life; on the other hand, he knows that he can't. He has learned too much and gained too much wisdom, and he now knows that life is meaningless without memories. He can never again settle for Sameness. Also, he is angry and frustrated because he wants to change things for his peers, but he doesn't know how. He realizes that if his friends and family would receive memories and thereby share the burden of the pain, then their lives would be rich and fulfilled. It frustrates him that they are satisfied with their painless, colorless, routine lives.
Jonas also has a conflict with the entire community. The Giver tells him that the people "don't want change. Life here is so orderly, so predictable — so painless. It's what they've chosen." Jonas has a difficult time understanding why people would choose to live their lives as unthinking, unfeeling robots, preferring that way of life because it is safe and secure over individuality and the freedom to make choices and, yes, even mistakes.
In small ways, Jonas attempts to change people. After receiving the memory about the elephant hunt, he tries to share his newfound knowledge of elephants with Lily and his father. The idea comes to him one evening when Lily is playing with her comfort object, which is a stuffed elephant, while Jonas' father is combing Lily's hair. Jonas touches each of them on the shoulder, trying to give each of them the "being" of a real elephant. However, Lily complains that Jonas is hurting her, and Jonas' father never responds. Disappointed, Jonas removes his hands from their shoulders.
Another illustration of Jonas' trying to break community members of their Sameness occurs when he attempts to show the color red to Asher, who is standing with Jonas near a flowerbed of bright red geraniums. Jonas wants to share color with Asher. Disregarding the rule that it is rude for a person to touch anyone who is not part of the person's family unit, Jonas puts his hands on Asher's shoulders and instructs him to look at the flowers. He tries to "transmit the awareness of red." Asher, feeling quite uncomfortable, moves away, and Jonas, sighing, makes up a story about the flowers wilting and needing water.
Jonas becomes accustomed to asking The Giver questions. Through The Giver's answers, he learns about the kind of life he can look forward to as the Receiver of Memory. He will be able to apply for a spouse and children (The Giver's spouse now lives with other Childless Adults), but his life will be strained. Like The Giver, he will not be allowed to talk about his work, not even to his wife; because books are forbidden to citizens, he will not be allowed to share them with anyone. His life will be difficult because of the burden of pain, and he will be extremely lonely.
Because the Committee of Elders seldom asks The Giver for advice, The Giver spends the majority of his time alone with his memories. The Giver tells Jonas about the two times when the committee asked for his advice. Once, the Elders were considering an increase in population because they wanted to have more Laborers. The Giver advised against it because he had memories of situations involving too many people and not enough food, and the people starved. The committee also sought The Giver's advice the time a pilot mistakenly flew over the community — supposedly the incident that begins this novel. The committee wanted to shoot down the plane immediately, but The Giver advised against such action because his memories include times in which people impulsively shot at planes and ended up bringing about their own demise. The Giver explains to Jonas that gaining knowledge from the memories is what makes the memories invaluable.
Confused, Jonas questions why a Receiver is needed if the Committee of Elders never asks for advice. The Giver explains that the real reason why the Elders value the Receiver of Memory is because The Receiver carries the burden of all pain; without The Receiver, the people would have to share in painful memories. And, of course, the people do not want to feel pain. Ten years earlier, the female who had been selected to be The Receiver failed. When she was released, the memories that she had already received from The Giver were then experienced, or felt, by the people, causing them great discomfort. They were reminded of feelings and memories. The chaotic situation that the people experienced when this new Receiver failed emphasizes the notion that everyone is interdependent, an important theme in the novel.
Jonas feels more and more comfortable talking to The Giver and is surprised when, quite often now, The Giver sounds bitter and cynical about the choice that the people have made to acquire Sameness. The Giver remarks that Jonas' instructors are well-trained, but they have only book knowledge, and book knowledge alone is meaningless without the memories from which wisdom is gained. All of the knowledge in the world is meaningless if a person cannot think freely as an individual.
Over time, Jonas gains insight about life in his community. Lowry again uses rhetorical questions — questions to which oftentimes there are no answers — to reveal Jonas' thoughts as he begins to think for himself. He wonders about hills, about where Elsewhere is located, and about what it might be like to experience Elsewhere. When his father mentions that twins will soon be born and that one of the twins will be released, Jonas wonders if someone will be waiting for the released twin in Elsewhere, who that person will be, and how the twin will grow up. Thinking as an individual, Jonas becomes increasingly frustrated. He is adamant about wanting to change things. He wants the people to have memories, and he wants to share the burden of pain with them. Lowry suggests what the future holds for Jonas and The Giver when The Giver admits that he's "never been able to think of a way" to force the people to accept memories, a statement that indicates that The Giver, like Jonas, wants to do away with Sameness in the community.
Jonas begins to make changes in his own small way. Gabe, the infant who has been spending nights with Jonas' family unit, starts sleeping in Jonas' room at night. The first night that Gabe sleeps in Jonas' room, Gabe wakes up as usual, fussing. To quiet Gabe, Jonas transmits a calming memory to him, something that Jonas was unable to do to Lily and his father. Gabe immediately falls back to sleep. Jonas is frightened of his power. Lowry uses this incident to create suspense. Even though Jonas is afraid, he seems compelled to fight for freedom and individuality, knowing that these qualities are best for the people. Having knowledge and wisdom, Jonas cannot sit idle. He will have to act.
geraniums common house or garden plants that have white, pink, or red flowers.
sinuous curving and supple.
electrode a conductor through which electric charge is passed.
invigorating powerfully exciting.
carnage here, meaning a mutilated and bloody body.