The Giver

by: Lois Lowry

Jonas’s Father

They had heard Father complain about the night crew before. It was a lesser job, night-crew nurturing, assigned to those who lacked the interest or skills or insight for the more vital jobs of the daytime hours.

Here, Jonas’s recollection of his father’s complaints illuminates the judgment inherent in their town’s supposedly “equal” structure. If asked, Father would likely say that everyone’s work was equally important. The truth is that shame and superiority exist here as surely as any another society, and Father’s judgment fits right in with a system that keeps people snugly in their places.

It didn’t seem a terribly important rule, but the fact that his father had broken a rule at all awed him. He glanced at his mother, the one responsible for adherence to the rules, and was relieved that she was smiling.

Jonas is shocked when Father confesses to sneaking a peek at some classified information. Father makes this admission early in the story, establishing right away that even the most obedient of people chafe under restrictive guidelines. Though the society’s rules seem all-encompassing, even its authority figures are willing to bend those rules. Father may be an obedient model citizen, but he is still human.

“Lily,” her mother said fondly, “you’re very close to being an Eight, and when you’re an Eight, your comfort object will be taken away. It will be recycled to the younger children. You should be starting to go off to sleep without it.” But her father had already gone to the shelf and taken down the stuffed elephant which was kept there.

Jonas’s mother’s words reveal how deeply their jobs define them. Mother, the judge, explains regulations with careful detail while Father, the caretaker, ignores her and gives their child exactly what she wants. Though in this instance Father seems like the rule-breaker, and perhaps like he is acting on irrational emotion, they are really both just robotically carrying out their functions.

“Do you love me?” There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!”

Father’s response to Jonas’s seemingly simple question unknowingly crushes Jonas, and reveals to the reader how truly hollow their society has made him. Father can barely understand what emotions are, or why he would need them. There is a level of feeling that simply does not exist within him. He treats his own son asking about love as though the question was a brief lapse in sanity.

Still in the special voice, his father was saying, “I know, I know. It hurts, little guy. But I have to use a vein, and the veins in your arms are still too teeny-weeny.” He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty.

As Father carries out an infant’s execution, his caretaking nature turns sinister. We see his nurturing is not only loveless, but also lethal. No one who actually cared for human life could speak in baby-talk while killing an infant, and Jonas, watching via security camera, is horrified. Jonas’s Father comes to represent the blank monstrousness of the society as a whole: a mindless drone delivering death as easily as a smile.