2. “We failed in our last selection,” the Chief Elder said solemnly. “It was ten years ago, when Jonas was just a toddler. I will not dwell on the experience because it causes us all terrible discomfort.”
This statement, made in Chapter 8 by the Chief Elder at the Ceremony of Twelve, when she introduces Jonas as the new Receiver, is the first reference anyone in The Giver makes to the first choice of Receiver, which failed ten years ago. Later in the novel, we learn that the discomfort the community suffered was the result of the many complicated, troubling memories that were released into everyone’s minds after the failed Receiver-in-training, Rosemary, applied for release.
The Chief Elder’s description of the community’s feelings as “discomfort” is telling. It indicates that the community is so unused to disturbance of any kind that even discomfort is such a traumatic experience that no one in the community ever wants to even mention it again. As we soon learn, it is forbidden to speak the name of the person who caused this discomfort (Jonas does not learn Rosemary’s name until he asks the Giver.) At the same time, we realize that the community’s seeming overreaction makes some sense, since the discomfort they felt was by far the worst suffering they had encountered in their lives. Discomfort is the strongest word available to them, given their emphasis on precise language.
Rereading the Chief Elder’s words later, in the context of Rosemary’s actual experience—she was so traumatized by the memories she received that she applied for release—we realize that the word “discomfort” describes the community’s inability to deal with the memories that flooded their minds, but it also reveals that the community does not grieve for the loss of Rosemary or regret the suffering that caused her suicide. As a substitute for the grief a community should feel, the phrase “discomfort” rings hollow.