Summary and Analysis
As Chapter 6 begins, Jonas' family unit is preparing to go to the December Ceremony, which lasts for two days. By describing the rules that each peer group must follow, Lowry emphasizes the theme of individuality versus conformity. We learn that Fours, Fives, and Sixes are required to wear jackets that button up the back. With buttons on the back, the children are forced to help each other button and unbutton the jackets and thus will learn interdependence. Sevens receive front-button jackets, symbols of independence. Girls must wear hair ribbons until they become Nines, and Eights begin volunteering and wearing jackets with smaller buttons and pockets. The pockets symbolize the responsibility and maturity of all Eights. Tens get their hair cut; male Elevens receive longer pants, and female Elevens receive new underwear because their bodies are physically changing.
Just when we begin to doubt that this community is really such a good place to live in after all, Lowry interjects normalcy. Lily "fidgets" as her mother braids her hair, Jonas and Lily joke and tease each other, and their mother wants to leave early to get a good seat in the Auditorium for the Ceremony. This scene is not unlike a scene in any family.
The theme of individuality versus conformity is especially important as Lowry relates Gabe's status. Rather than be labeled "Inadequate" and immediately be released from the community because he hasn't gained the weight required of babies his age and doesn't yet sleep through the entire night, Gabe has been given a reprieve, a second chance. Thanks to Jonas' father, he has been labeled "Uncertain" and has a year in which to improve. Gabe is different from others his age, which is unacceptable to the community, but he is fortunate: He is able to spend each night with Jonas' family unit and receive extra attention and care. The only stipulation, or condition, to this arrangement is that Jonas' family members must sign a pledge stating that they will not become emotionally attached to Gabe. They can care for him physically, but they are not allowed to love him. The only way to maintain the illusion of social order within the community is to enforce the rules and make sure that everyone conforms. Individual feelings interfere with established rules.
Everyone in the community attends the December Ceremony, which is held in the Auditorium. The Ceremony begins with the Naming and Placement of newborns. When Jonas' friend Fiona goes onstage with her parents, they are given a male infant named Bruno. The previous year, the family unit of Jonas' friend Asher was given a female newchild named Phillipa. Asher is eleven years older than Phillipa, and it is unusual to have such a large age gap between two children in the same family unit. Only four years separate Jonas and his sister, Lily. On this occasion, one family receives a "replacement child," named Caleb, because their first child, also named Caleb, wandered off and fell into the river that runs near the community. For a family unit to lose one of its two children is a rare occurrence in the community. When everyone follows the rules and acts the same (conforms), nothing bad happens, and the community remains an extremely safe place to live. When people don't follow the rules, they are considered inferior because they "infringed on the community's sense of order and success."
During the December Ceremony's Naming and Placement of newborns, we find out that names are "recycled." When an elderly person is released from the community, apparently the released person's name is put on a list and is used again. For example, because an elderly man named Roberto was released in Chapter 4, a newborn is named Roberto and given to a family unit in Chapter 6.
The Ceremony proceeds with each age group in consecutive order. When the Nines receive their very own bicycles, Fritz, who lives in the dwelling next door to Jonas', almost bumps into the podium. Fritz is quite clumsy and is always getting into trouble for such things as not studying for school quizzes, losing his homework, or wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. Fritz's behavior is a problem for his parents because it indicates that they are not good parents; remember, people who do not behave the same as others in the community jeopardize the order and success of the entire community.
When the Ceremony of Twelve begins, Jonas, also known as Nineteen (the number given him at birth because he was the nineteenth child born that particular year), is sitting in the Auditorium in numerical order with the other Elevens. He is comforted with the realization that whatever Assignment he receives will be the right one for him. Rarely are people dissatisfied with their Assignments. If people are unhappy with their Assignments, or if they feel as though they no longer fit in the community, they can apply for release. Again Lowry wants us to question anything that has to do with a release when she has Asher comment, "Here today and gone tomorrow. Never seen again." Applying for release because a person dislikes an Assignment is almost unheard of because the decisions made by the Committee of Elders are meticulously thought out.
The Chief Elder's speech that begins the December Ceremony is ironic because in a community that chooses Sameness and security over individuality and freedom, here the Chief Elder acknowledges the differences that have been observed in each Eleven. She says to the Elevens, "You Elevens have spent all your years till now learning to fit in, to standardize your behavior, to curb any impulse that might set you apart from the group." However, although the Chief Elder states that differences exist among the community members, we wonder just how many differences there possibly could be in a community that blindly accepts Sameness.
Asher, Jonas' best friend, is called to the stage for his Assignment. The Chief Elder discusses Asher's difficulty learning precise language. As a Three, Asher would ask for a "smack" rather than a "snack." Each time Asher made this error, the Childcare worker whose responsibility it is to teach the children the importance of precision of language swatted Asher with a discipline wand. For a time, Asher stopped talking. Everyone in the Auditorium laughs at this memory. In our society, this form of "teaching" would be unacceptable. Jonas' community, however, obviously makes it quite clear to the children at a very young age that they must conform and obey — or else. In the midst of what appears to be a celebration and holiday for the community members, Lowry doesn't let us forget the sacrifices that people make when they choose to give up their individuality and freedom.
As the December Ceremony progresses and the Elevens receive their Assignments, the Chief Elder skips over Jonas' name. At first, Jonas thinks that the Chief Elder has made a mistake, but he quickly corrects his thinking because the Chief Elder would never make a mistake. Unfortunately, Jonas feels as though he has unknowingly done something wrong and is being punished. In describing the situation, Lowry writes that Jonas "tried to make himself smaller in his seat. He wanted to disappear, to fade away, not to exist." Jonas' feelings of humiliation and terror because he has been skipped over, as well as the confusion that everyone in the Auditorium feels, create suspense in the book. Lowry makes it obvious that Jonas is different, which in Jonas' community is not a positive attribute.
After all of the other Elevens except Jonas have been assigned, the Chief Elder apologizes for causing everyone, and especially Jonas, such discomfort by skipping over Jonas' name. Jonas now goes onstage, and the Chief Elder announces that Jonas has not been assigned but, rather, has been "selected" to become the new Receiver of Memory, the most honored position in the community. She explains that as a new Receiver trains, he is to be "alone, apart," so the person selected must be perfect for the position because he can't be observed — except by the current Receiver of Memory, who will train Jonas. During the selection process, if anyone on the Committee of Elders would have had "dreams of uncertainty," the candidate would no longer have been considered for the position of Receiver. When considering Jonas, there were no such "dreams of uncertainty."
The Chief Elder goes on to explain the qualities that a Receiver of Memory must possess. These qualities include intelligence, integrity, courage, wisdom, and the Capacity to See Beyond. Jonas is unsure whether or not he has this last quality, but as he looks out at the audience, he sees the audience change, the same way that the apple changed. Remember that earlier in the book, when Jonas first saw Gabe's pale eyes, which are exactly like his own, Jonas thought that such light eyes had a "certain look . . . as if one were looking into the clear water of the river, down to the bottom, where things might lurk which hadn't been discovered yet." Maybe Jonas does have the Capacity to See Beyond.
Chapter 8 ends with Jonas confused about his future as the new Receiver of Memory. He feels fear because he will have to endure physical pain and will be alienated from his friends and family, but he feels pride because the members of the community are in awe of him — and he hasn't done anything yet. He has only been selected.
indulgently here, meaning patiently, contentedly, and happily.
Elsewhere a place outside of the community; Lowry only hints at what and where Elsewhere is.
Ceremony of Loss When a child dies unexpectedly, the citizens of the community repeat the dead person's name over and over — and more and more softly — during the day.
Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony When a new infant is given to a family unit to replace a child who died unexpectedly, the citizens of the community speak the child's name softly at first, then more rapidly and loudly, symbolizing the return of the dead child. The new infant is given the same name as that of the child who died.
buoyancy the ability to stay afloat.
aptitude skill or ability.
sheepish embarrassed and uncomfortable.
retroactive putting something in effect at an earlier time.
ruefully regretfully or sadly.
piecemeal scattered; not together or in unison.
benign not harmful; gentle and calm.
Capacity to See Beyond having the ability to see things that others cannot see.