He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.
Instead of waiting two weeks as he and the Giver had planned, Jonas is forced to escape right away. At the evening meal, his father tells the family that he tried to see if Gabriel could sleep through the night at the Nurturing Center, and that the newchild had cried all night. The staff, including Jonas’s father, voted to release him the next day. Jonas cannot allow this to happen, so he takes some leftover food and his father’s bicycle, which has a child seat, and leaves, relying on his own courage and strength instead of on the memories that the Giver had promised. Jonas has broken serious rules against leaving his dwelling at night and taking food. After riding all night, he and Gabe rest during the day, hiding from the planes that fly overhead searching for them. He transmits memories of exhaustion to Gabriel in order to make him sleep during the day, and in order to avoid the heat-seeking technology of the planes, he transmits memory of intense cold to both of them so that their body heat does not show up on the planes’ devices. After several days, when Jonas and Gabriel have left all communities far behind, the planes come less frequently.
The landscape around them begins to change: the terrain becomes bumpy and irregular, and Jonas falls and twists his ankle. He sees waterfalls and wildlife, all new things to him after a life of Sameness. He is happy to see beautiful things, but worries that he and Gabe might starve, since there is no sign of cultivated land anywhere around. He catches some fish in a makeshift net and gathers some berries, but they are only just enough. If he had stayed in the community, he would have had enough to eat, and he realizes that in choosing to leave, he chose to starve. But in the community he would have been hungry for feelings and color, and Gabriel would have died. The weather changes, and Jonas feels cold and hunger and pain from his twisted ankle. But he suspects that Elsewhere is not far away and hopes that he will be able to keep Gabriel alive.
One day, it begins to snow, and Jonas’s bicycle cannot climb the steep hill that rises before them. Jonas has lost most of the memories he received from the Giver, but he tries to remember sunshine and the feeling of warmth that it gives. When it comes, he transmits the feeling to Gabriel, and it helps them make it up the hill on foot, despite the intense cold and hunger they feel. When he can no longer remember sunshine, and is almost totally numb with cold, Jonas remembers his friends and family and the Giver, and the happiness their memories give him helps him to reach the top. He recognizes the snow-covered summit of the hill, and somehow finds a sled waiting for him there. He gets in the sled and steers himself and Gabe to the bottom, toward warm, twinkling lights that glow from the windows of houses. He feels certain that the families in those houses, where they kept memories and celebrated love, were waiting for him and Gabe. Ahead of him, he hears singing for the first time in his life, and he thinks that he hears the music behind him too.
In the last chapters of The Giver, Jonas truly begins to exist in the world of his memories. This begins when he makes the drastic choice to escape ahead of schedule with Gabriel in tow. Jonas is aware that he is breaking rules against leaving his dwelling and taking food, but in reality he is breaking a much more serious rule, one on which his entire society is based. He is making choices for himself as an individual, and in doing this he is making himself important as an individual rather than as a member of a society. He is also making the choice that Gabriel’s individual life is more precious than the convenience of the community. At the same time, however, Jonas is making choices that affect the entire community, acting in what he considers their self-interest. This choice, though, opposes another fundamental rule of the society: everything should be done to avoid pain and discomfort. Jonas’s escape will cause the entire community great anguish for long periods of time until they have come to grips with the difficult memories he leaves behind him.
After his journey becomes difficult, the consequences of freedom become clearer to Jonas than they were in his memories or his meditations on choice and individuality. Feeling pain, hunger, and cold, Jonas realizes that all of his present misery is a direct result of his own actions. He understands for the first time that one choice always eliminates another choice. His community has chosen peace and comfort over extreme joy and pain, order over freedom, and Jonas sees that each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. But when he decides that the life he has chosen is better than the one he rejected, Jonas affirms that the important thing is choice. People with free choice have to accept the consequences of their actions, but in the end they will be happier to have the choice.
Jonas’s powers of memory become undeniably magical on his journey. Earlier in the novel, the process of receiving memories has seemed mystical and mysterious, the opposite of the carefully reasoned, intricately explained rules of the community, symbolizing how removed the citizens are from the complexity of emotion. On the road, however, Jonas’s mental powers become so strong that they are able to defy the community’s sophisticated tracking technology and defeat the natural world. Memories of cold keep Jonas and Gabriel safe from the heat-seeking planes searching overhead, and memories of warmth help them to stay alive in the bitter cold. The extent of Jonas’s powers to defy technology indicates that feelings have triumphed over cold logic in the story, regardless of whether Jonas survives his journey.
Jonas’s deep loyalty to and affection for Gabriel also implies a triumph of the heart. Jonas has finally known love and the irrational, genuine sacrifices that we make to help someone we truly love. When he risks his own life for Gabriel, and when hope for Gabriel’s survival keeps him from giving up later in the journey, Jonas has achieved a love for another person that proves love is more than just pride or enjoyment.
When Jonas’s supply of transmitted memories is exhausted, he turns instead to his own memories—of his parents, his friends, and the Giver. These memories can never fade, since they belong entirely to him. The hope that the memories give him shows that Jonas is truly beginning to live Elsewhere. He does not hold onto his personal memories out of practical necessity as the Elders hold onto memory in the form of the Giver. His memories exist simply to give his life meaning and pleasure, and to help him overcome personal obstacles. Love and choice both require memory, and Jonas loves, makes choices, and remembers.
The ending of The Giver is extremely ambiguous and highly controversial. It can be read in two ways: either Jonas and Gabriel have finally arrived at a populated section of Elsewhere—a place that holds on to the traditions that existed before Sameness, where they will be welcomed and loved—or they are both freezing to death, and in their delusion ecstatically imagine details from some of Jonas’s stored memories. Some readers feel that the interpretation of the ending determines the message of the book. If the first interpretation is correct, the novel is optimistic, whereas the second one conveys a completely pessimistic and hopeless message. However, though the ambiguity provokes interesting questions and though the idea of Jonas and Gabriel freezing to death on the sled is a sad one, the message of the book remains optimistic no matter what has happened. In either case, Jonas is filled with real joy when he hears the music and sees the lights, and the story ends with Jonas and Gabriel full of hope, love, happiness, and uncertainty—all things that would never have been a part of their lives had they stayed in the community. When Jonas thinks over the choices he has made on his journey, he decides that “if he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways.” A life full of choice, color, and emotion is more valuable to him than the alternative, no matter how long that life is. If Jonas does die at the end, he still dies only after having really lived. Note how at the end of the novel, Gabriel is referred to as a baby, not a newchild. Jonas and Gabriel are now both more human.
In either case, too, Jonas’s escape from the community has sent his accumulated memories streaming back into the consciousness of the community. Whether or not he hears or imagines their singing behind him, Jonas knows that he has given them what he set out to give them: love and loneliness, freedom and choice. He has become the ultimate Giver of Memory, awakening his entire community to the possibilities of life. If the Christmastime village Jonas sees at the end of the novel does not really exist—if it is only a hallucination—we can still rest assured that in leaving his memories to the community, Jonas is turning his own community into that Christmas village. Enhanced by a new kind of sensory experience—music—that did not exist in Jonas’s received memories, the village is as much a prophecy as it is a memory. The society is moving forward and looking back. The ending is undeniably hopeful.