Summary and Analysis Chapters 18-20


These three chapters focus on release. Up to this point, Lowry has been vague about the concept of release and has not explicitly stated what release means. She has given the impression that release for older people who are no longer useful to the community, for infants who are different, and for people who are being punished simply means going Elsewhere.

Jonas wonders about release. The Giver explains to Jonas that he himself cannot ask to be released until the new Receiver (Jonas) has been trained. Jonas mentions that his instructions prevent him from asking for release. In a bitter tone, The Giver tells Jonas that the rule about release was added after the Receiver-in-training's failure ten years earlier. At Jonas' request, The Giver finally explains what happened to the earlier Receiver, who was named Rosemary.

Rosemary was selected to be the new Receiver exactly as Jonas was. The Giver began training her, giving her happy, joyful memories until she demanded that he also give her painful and anguished memories. She felt it was her duty to share the burden of pain. But one day, after receiving a few painful memories, Rosemary said goodbye to The Giver, left the Annex, and asked to be released. The Giver never saw her again. As The Giver discusses Rosemary, Lowry provides meaningful details describing The Giver's actions that indicate his overwhelming sadness about Rosemary's decision. While he is talking, he "painfully" hesitates, his voice trails off, and he sorrowfully closes his eyes.

When Rosemary was released after only five weeks of training, the community was in turmoil. All of the memories that Rosemary had received returned to the people in the community. Because memories are forever and are never lost, the people were forced to experience the anguish and the joy contained in the memories. For the first time in their lives, they experienced real feelings. Grief stricken and angry over the loss of Rosemary, The Giver was unable to help the community through its ordeal.

Knowing that memories will destroy the community's Sameness, Jonas asks The Giver a hypothetical question: "What if I fell into the river . . . and was lost?" The answer is clear. Every memory that The Giver has transmitted to Jonas would return to the people, and Sameness would no longer be possible. The community would have to change, and with The Giver's help, the people would endure the experience and benefit from it. Again Lowry foreshadows the future as she concludes Chapter 18 with The Giver deep in thought about Jonas' suggestion to help the community experience freedom once again.

The topic of release is on Jonas' mind because his father was scheduled to release a newborn twin earlier that morning. To Jonas' amazement, The Giver informs Jonas that he can watch the twin's release because all private ceremonies in the community are recorded on video, and being The Receiver, Jonas can ask for anything. Jonas is unaware that the community's every activity is taped. Videotaping everything that goes on in the community is yet another way that the Committee of Elders maintains control of the people.

Concerning the twin's release, Lowry describes in detail the release room in the Nurturing Center. Her style is straightforward, and her tone is foreboding. Suspense builds as The Giver insists in a very firm voice that Jonas be quiet and watch the video recording of the release. Jonas wants to see a release because he thinks that a release is a celebration; he's never had a clue that it is anything else. In an "ordinary room," Jonas' father, talking to the newborn twins, uses the "special voice" that he always uses with newborns. Everything appears to be as it should. Jonas watches as his father sends the heavier newborn twin off to the Nurturing Center and then gives a hypodermic shot into the lighter twin's head. Jonas figures that this shot is a routine vaccination that all newchildren get. He expects that his father is going to make the baby as "comfy" as possible before sending it to Elsewhere. But as Jonas looks at the now-motionless baby, he sees the same blank look on the baby's face that he saw on the dead soldier's face in the memory of warfare. Now Jonas knows that his father has killed the baby. Release means death.

After the video ends, The Giver tells Jonas that Rosemary asked to inject herself at her release. She committed suicide. The anguish that Jonas feels is almost too much for him to bear. He is overwhelmed with betrayal and deceit. When he realizes that his father lies about what releasing a baby means, The Giver sadly explains, "It's what he was told to do, and he knows nothing else." Jonas' community is built on lies, which Jonas first suggested at the end of Chapter 9 after he read in his training instructions that he is permitted to lie.

By describing the baby's release, a most senseless and horrifying death, Lowry reveals that the community practices infanticide, the killing of infants. The reason that infants are killed is because they are different in some way. Rosemary's suicide reveals that the community also practices a form of euthanasia — here, meaning that a person voluntarily asks to die. However, in the community, release for the elderly or as punishment for citizens who have broken the rules is a form of forced euthanasia, or murder.

The emotional climax of the novel is when Jonas finally becomes aware of the true meaning of release and realizes that the community's ideals are far from being idealistic. After watching the release of the smaller twin, everything changes for Jonas and can never be the same again. Jonas refuses to go home. Both angry and sad, he sarcastically mocks people who kill other people in the community. The Giver helps Jonas to understand that the people don't know what they are doing: They are simply following the rules. Because they have no memory of death, loss, pain, and murder, they do not associate a release with any feelings because they have no feelings. They gave up their feelings when they chose Sameness. Lowry shows us what can happen when people are blindly obedient to rules. When people give up their freedom to think as individuals, horrible things can — and do — happen. They become robots without the ability to think for themselves.

The falling action of the novel — in literary terms, known as de-nouement — begins as The Giver and Jonas decide that things in the community must change, that neither one of them can tolerate the people's Sameness and blind obedience any longer. Because Jonas and The Giver have the memories, they know that at one time the people in the community also had the memories — before they chose Sameness.

Jonas and The Giver talk until very late, developing a plan to save the people in the community from their own senseless inhumanity. Jonas is willing to risk his life because even if he were to stay in the community, his life would no longer be worth living. Jonas plans to escape to Elsewhere and thereby force the community to share the immense, painful burden of the memories that Jonas has received from The Giver. The Giver will stay in the community to help the people deal with the memories, for if the people don't have The Giver's help, they will probably destroy themselves. Jonas doesn't want to leave The Giver, his only real friend, behind. Although Jonas tells The Giver that they "don't need to care about the rest of them," he knows that his statement isn't true. They need to care because caring about others is "the meaning of everything."

Jonas plans to leave the community just before the upcoming December Ceremony. In preparation, The Giver will transmit memories of strength and courage to Jonas. The night before the ceremony, Jonas will leave a note, which his parents will find the next morning, stating that he's gone for an early morning bicycle ride. He will leave his bicycle and some clothing by the river and then go to the Annex. In the morning, The Giver will request a vehicle and driver in order to visit another community. Jonas will hide in the storage compartment of the vehicle. The people in the community will notice Jonas' absence; they will search and assume he's fallen into the river, as the four-year-old Caleb did years earlier. The Giver will then return just in time to perform the Ceremony of Loss for Jonas. The plan seems perfect.

Lowry concludes Chapter 20 by showing the love and affection that Jonas and The Giver have for one another. The Giver tells Jonas that after he helps the people in the community cope with their newly found memories, he wants to be with his daughter, Rosemary, who, we now learn, was the earlier Receiver-in-training who chose death over living a lonely and isolated life filled with painful memories. The Giver is telling Jonas that he is planning to commit suicide.


luminous brightly lit.

imploringly begging for understanding in a painful situation.

Hall of Closed Records a building that houses various documents and video recordings; all information in the Hall of Closed Records is off-limits to the vast majority of citizens.

hearing-beyond hearing things that other people in the community can't hear because they do not have the memories and no longer have the ability; for example, The Giver hears music.