Summary and Analysis
Two major themes — freedom versus security and individuality versus conformity — are emphasized in these three chapters. Because Jonas' father is concerned about one of the newborns, he requests and receives permission to take the infant, named Gabriel (Gabe), home with him each night for extra nurturing. When Jonas, his mother, and Lily meet Gabe for the first time, Lily immediately comments that Gabe's eyes are like Jonas': different. Both Gabe and Jonas have light, pale eyes. Jonas is upset with Lily for drawing attention to the fact that his eyes are unlike most everyone else's dark eyes. Because people in the community chose Sameness, it is extremely rude to talk about things that are different. Although Jonas is not often reminded of his unique eyes because mirrors are uncommon possessions in the community, Jonas knows that his light eyes are unusual. Lowry foreshadows future events by describing Jonas' eyes and Gabe's eyes as "pale, solemn, knowing eyes" that have depth, suggesting that both Jonas and Gabe may see things that other people can't see.
Gabe's presence prompts Jonas' family's conversation about Birthmothers because Lily hopes that she will be assigned to be a Birthmother when she becomes a Twelve. During the conversation, we learn that Birthmothers give birth to three babies over a three-year period. Each newchild is immediately taken away from its Birthmother and is cared for by Nurturers in the Nurturing Center until the newchild is placed with a family unit at the December Ceremony. Birthmothers become Laborers at the end of their three years of birthing. Jonas' mother tells Lily that there is little honor in an Assignment as a Birthmother, implying that a caste system — a division within a society according to people's professions — exists within the community. Although Jonas' community appears to be perfect, prejudices do exist in one form or another.
The people in the community are controlled by announcements and chastisements that are heard over loudspeakers. Apparently, secrets do not exist within the community. Loudspeakers are everywhere, even in the family dwellings. Jonas was once publicly chastised because he took an apple home from the Recreation Area. The Speaker didn't mention Jonas' name over the loudspeaker, but both Jonas and his parents knew that the reprimand was directed at him. He broke a rule, and the next day he promptly apologized to the Recreation Director. Confused and unable to find the precise words to describe what happened to him, Jonas never told anyone why he took the apple. He was playing catch with his best friend, Asher, using the apple as a ball, when suddenly he saw the apple change — Lowry doesn't describe how it changed. Knowing that this strange occurrence was "different," he didn't tell anyone about it. Jonas' uneasy feelings and the hints that Lowry has revealed about Jonas' being different from other community members add to the suspense of the book.
Lowry leads us to believe that Jonas' community is a perfect place to live, or a utopia. When children become Eights, they begin their volunteer hours. These children have the freedom to choose where they want to volunteer; however, because the hours are mandatory, it appears that even this freedom is controlled. The purpose of volunteering is to give the Committee of Elders the opportunity to observe each child in different working situations so that the Elders can make appropriate lifelong career Assignments for the children when the children become Twelves.
At the beginning of Chapter 4, Jonas finds his friends, Asher and Fiona, volunteering in the House of the Old, which is like a present-day nursing home. He volunteers there also. In the House of the Old, the community's elderly people live while awaiting their release.
While at the House of the Old, Jonas is instructed to help bathe the Old in the bathing room. We learn that it is against the rules for anyone to look at any naked person except at infants (newchildren) and the Old. While bathing a woman named Larissa, Jonas thinks that the bathing room feels safe because Larissa looks trusting and free. These feelings are ironic because people gave up their freedoms when they decided to live in a community of Sameness. Their feeling of security is an illusion, a false appearance.
Larissa speaks to Jonas about the release of an Old named Roberto. At the release ceremony, which was held earlier that morning, Roberto's life story was told before he was released. According to Larissa, the ceremony is designed to make each per-son's life sound meaningful. Larissa corrects herself to say that all lives are meaningful. Here, Lowry uses irony once again to emphasize a key theme: The people are under the impression that their lives are meaningful, but in reality they all live meaningless lives. They behave like robots because they chose Sameness over individuality (differences). Larissa also mentions that she doesn't think a woman named Edna, who has been released, was "very smart." Larissa's comment about Edna shows that people in the community do judge one another and are aware of differences despite their efforts to create a community of uniformity. Control of the people is once again emphasized when Larissa and Jonas suggest changing a rule and then laugh because it could take a lifetime or longer to get a rule changed.
At the beginning of Chapter 5, during the morning ritual of telling dreams, Jonas tells his family members about his dream during the previous night. He dreamed about wanting to bathe his friend Fiona. He had pleasant feelings during the dream. As a result of Jonas' discussing his dream, his mother tells him that he will have to start taking a pill. She explains that all of the adults in the community take a pill every day to stifle the Stirrings — sexual desires. The pill is another way that the Committee of Elders controls people. Physical affection within the family unit is uncommon, and physical affection or touching outside of the family unit is absolutely inappropriate and rude. Jonas knows that Asher has been taking a pill but never asks him about it because it is rude to talk about such personal things. Jonas takes his pill, feeling proud and sad at the same time — proud because he is doing what all adults do, and sad because within a short time, the pleasurable feelings disappear and he feels the same as before.
port here, a place to secure a bicycle.
Birthmother a female who is assigned to give birth to three children within three years, after which she becomes a Laborer.
House of the Old a facility, similar to a nursing home, in which elderly people reside and are cared for by Caretakers.
droning on speaking continuously; chattering idly.
hoarded selfishly accumulated.
Caretaker a person who cares for the elderly in the House of the Old.
Collection Crew people assigned to pick up food trays left outside of dwellings.
Stirrings feelings of sexual desire.