He liked the feeling of safety here in this warm and quiet room; he liked the expression of trust on the woman’s face as she lay in the water unprotected, exposed, and free.
Jonas’s father brings the struggling newchild Gabriel home to spend nights with Jonas’s family. Lily remarks that Gabriel has “funny eyes” like Jonas—both boys have light eyes, while most people in the community have darker eyes. Lily is being slightly rude: in their society it is inappropriate to call attention to the ways in which people are different. Lily also says she hopes she will be assigned to be a Birthmother when she grows up, since she likes newchildren so much, but her mother tells her that the position of Birthmother carries very little honor—Birthmothers are pampered for three years while they produce children, but then do hard labor and never get to see their biological children.
Jonas thinks about the Speakers who make announcements to the community over the loudspeakers all day, including reprimands to rule-breakers. He remembers a time when an announcement was specifically directed at him, though his name was not mentioned—no one is singled out in his society. The announcement reminded male Elevens that “snacks are to be eaten, not hoarded,” referring to an apple that he had taken home with him from school. Jonas had taken the apple because, while playing catch with his friend Asher, he had noticed the apple change in a way he could not describe. On closer investigation, the apple remained the same shape, size, and nondescript shade as always, but then it would briefly change again, though Asher did not seem to notice. Jonas took the apple home to investigate it further, but discovered nothing. The event bewildered him.
In Chapter 4, Jonas meets Asher so that they can do their mandatory volunteer hours together. Children from eight to eleven volunteer at different locations daily to develop skills and get a sense of their occupational interests. Jonas enjoys volunteer hours because they are less regulated than other hours of his day—he gets to choose where he spends them. He volunteers at a variety of places, enjoying the different experiences, and has no idea what his Assignment will be. Today, he goes to the House of the Old, where he notices Asher’s bike is parked. In the bathing room, he gives a bath to an elderly woman. He appreciates the sense of safety and trust he gets from the woman—it is against the rules to look at other people naked in any situation, but the rule does not apply to the Old or newchildren. They discuss the release of one of the Old, a man named Roberto. The old woman, Larissa, describes the release as a wonderful celebration—the man’s life story was narrated, he was toasted by the other residents of the House of the Old, he made a farewell speech, and then walked blissfully through a special door to be released. Larissa does not know what actually happens when someone is released, but she assumes it is wonderful; she does not understand why children are forbidden to attend.
In these chapters, we begin to get a sense of how different Jonas is from other members of his society and also of the degree to which his society discourages differences. Jonas is both physically different, in that his eyes are a very unusual color, and mentally different—he sees the world in a different way, as illustrated by his ability to see the apple change. He is also slightly troubled by some of the strict rules that govern his society. He enjoys the closeness he gets from physical contact with the old woman and does not understand why that kind of closeness is forbidden with other people. He also enjoys having freedom of choice in a way that other people in his community do not seem to appreciate as much. He likes his volunteer hours because he can choose where to spend them, and he takes advantage of that freedom more than most people do. However, although Jonas enjoys freedom, he is still a loyal member of the community. He follows the rules scrupulously, apologizing for stealing the apple as soon as he realizes he has taken it, and he does notdoes not think seriously about changing the society’s rules.
Lowry uses Jonas’s unusual eyes as a metaphor for the unusual way in which he sees the world. His eyes, different from other people’s, are a physical representation of his different “vision”: he is different on the inside as well as on the outside. The fact that his eyes seem deeper than other people’s is also significant. The moment when Jonas sees the apple change will be used later in the novel as an example of Jonas’s ability to “see beyond”—to physically see past what other people in his community see, to see qualities of objects that are deeper than the qualities other people see. This ability to see colors when everyone else sees the world in nondescript shades of dark and light is closely related to Jonas’s spiritual and emotional ability later in the novel to feel emotions more deeply than other people do.
At this point, the description of how the apple changes is slightly confusing—we have no idea what happens to it when it changes. However, it is the only way that Jonas, with no experience of color, can describe what happens to the apple: it changes, taking on a quality it did not have before. Lowry gives us some hints about what happens to the apple, though. When Jonas describes the apple, he notes that it is the same size and shape as before. He does not use the word “color,” to describe its shade. Instead, he uses “nondescript,” a word most people would not use to describe the color red. In the novel, the color red comes to be closely aligned to the intense emotions Jonas begins to feel during his training with the Giver. It is a vibrant color, and the community’s inability to see it as anything but nondescript is a metaphor for the community’s inability to perceive the intensity and beauty of love and other emotions or the excitement of freedom and choice.
These two chapters also reveal the ways in which the society sometimes regards its members as tools rather than as human beings, and the ways in which traditional family relationships are erased. The Birthmothers are treated well only until they have produced their allotted three children for the community. Afterward, they are given a life of hard labor. This custom suggests an extremely practical attitude toward human life: the women are valued for the usefulness of their bodies, and as soon as that usefulness begins to dwindle, their value decreases. The role of mother is not sentimentalized as it is in our society. In fact, very little is sentimentalized: the Old are treated like children and cared for by people with whom they might have had no relationship in their childhood or adulthood. They are kept ignorant—as are most members of the community—about what happens when they are released from the society.
At the same time, young volunteers are able to experience a degree of tenderness with the Old that they cannot experience with anyone else except newchildren. When the Old are no longer functional members of society, they are still treated with kindness and sometimes with respect. Newchildren are treated with tenderness and affection—Jonas’s father’s concern for Gabriel’s welfare is genuine, as is his delight in playing games with the children he nurtures and his sadness at the prospect of releasing them. Although close, lasting relationships with friends and family might not exist, one of the positive qualities of Jonas’s community is the entire community’s willingness to take care of children, the Old, and each other. Later in the novel, when the negative aspects of Jonas’s community come to the fore, it will be helpful to remember that those negative aspects are the price the community pays for a genuinely tranquil and neighborly lifestyle.