He couldn’t seem to stop, though for each lapse the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher’s legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when he was a Three.
Jonas here reflects on his friend Asher’s many punishments for stumbling over his words, illuminating the harsh ineffectiveness of the society’s disciplinarian methods. Asher’s teachers likely viewed the child’s silence as a sign their teachings were working, but the reader knows better. Asher didn’t understand any of the ideology behind the punishment. He simply stopped talking out of fear. When he talked, he got hurt, so he didn’t talk.
“I can’t swim very well,” he said. “My swimming instructor said that I don’t have the right boyishness or something.” “Buoyancy,” Jonas corrected him.
As Asher tries to voice some concerns to Jonas, Jonas fails to respond with compassion and just corrects his word choice. Asher’s verbal mistakes make him the target of judgment, even from his closest friend, and this dynamic illuminates another way the society keeps people in line. Strict adherence to rules creates coldness between people, who out of fear must police others and look out for themselves, rather than unconditionally caring for each other.
“[W]e did not consider for an instant designating Asher an Instructor of Threes.” The audience howled with laughter. Asher laughed, too, looking sheepish but pleased at the special attention. The Instructors of Threes were in charge of the acquisition of correct language.
The Elders mock Asher during an important ceremony, despite the event being a crucial moment in the boy’s life. Asher doesn’t fully know what is happening, but this subtly cruel humiliation is just like the teachers lashing his legs: another tool to keep Asher in line. We watch as Asher internalizes the shame. He feels uncomfortable, but everyone is laughing, so he assumes this feeling is good and normal.
“Games aren’t your area of expertness.” “Expertise,” Jonas corrected him automatically. “Whatever. You can’t say what we play, even if you are going to be the new Receiver.” Asher looked warily at him. “I apologize for not paying you the respect you deserve,” he mumbled. “Asher,” Jonas said. He was trying to speak carefully, and with kindness, to say exactly what he wanted to say. “You had no way of knowing this. I didn’t know it myself until recently. But it’s a cruel game. In the past, there have—” “I said I apologize, Jonas.” Jonas sighed. It was no use.
This exchange between Jonas and Asher occurs after Jonas begs Asher and his friends to stop pretending to shoot each other. Jonas, shaken by the Giver’s memories of war, realizes the horror of such a game. Though we know Jonas’s message is important, Asher’s irritation is understandable. As Recreation Director, he finally has a role, and some respect and authority, and now Jonas comes along and threatens to invalidate that. Asher’s reaction is a microcosm for a society that sees no reason to think about bad things.
“When he began to talk again, it was with greater precision. And now his lapses are very few. His corrections and apologies are very prompt. And his good humor is unfailing.” The audience murmured in agreement. Asher’s cheerful disposition was well-known throughout the community.
As Jonas reflects on the effects of Asher’s years of punishment, Asher becomes a textbook example of the society’s factory-like production of mindless drones. Previously a guileless child, Asher shows how an unvarnished person is sanded down by the community in their youth, and molded to fit into the whole of Sameness.