The Giver transmits the memory of another ride on a sled, only this time the sled loses control and Jonas experiences pain and nausea from a badly broken leg. The pain lingers after the experience is over, but the Giver is not allowed to give him relief-of-pain, and Jonas limps home and goes to bed early. Forbidden to share his feelings with his family, he feels isolated, realizing that they have never known intense pain. Over the next days, the Giver transmits more and more painful memories, always ending the day with a memory of pleasure. After experiencing starvation, Jonas asks why these horrible memories need to be preserved, and the Giver explains that they bring wisdom: once, for example, the community wanted to increase the number of children allowed to each family, but the Giver remembered the hunger that overpopulation brings and advised against it. Jonas wonders why the whole community cannot share the pain of these important memories, and the Giver tells him that this is the reason the position of Receiver is so honored—the community does not want to be burdened and pained by memories. Jonas wants to change things, but the Giver reminds him that the situation has been the same for generations, and that there is very little hope for change.
Meanwhile, the newchild Gabriel is developing well, but still cannot sleep through the night. Jonas’s father worries that he will have to be released after all. He mentions that the Nurturing Center will probably have to make another release first, though: a Birthmother is expecting twin males, and if they are identical, one will have to be released. Jonas wonders what happens to children who are released. Is someone waiting for them Elsewhere to bring them up and take care of them? He asks his parents to let Gabriel sleep in his room that night so that he can share the responsibility of caring for him. When Gabriel wakes up crying, Jonas pats his back while remembering a wonderful sail on a lake transmitted to him by the Giver. He realizes that he is unwittingly transmitting the memory to Gabriel and stops himself. Later, he transmits the whole memory and Gabriel stops crying and sleeps. Jonas wonders if he has done the right thing.
The next day, Jonas finds the Giver in incredible pain, and the Giver asks him to take some of the pain away. The Giver transmits the terrible memory of a battlefield covered with groaning, dying men and horses. Jonas, himself horribly wounded, gives water to a young soldier and then watches him die. After this memory, Jonas never wants to go back to the Annex for more wisdom and pain, but he does, and the Giver transmits beautiful memories—birthday parties, art museums, horseback riding, camping—that celebrate individuality, brilliant colors, the bond between people and animals, and solitude, all things absent from Jonas’s society. He asks the Giver what his favorite memory is, and the Giver transmits a memory of a family—grandparents, parents, young children—opening presents at Christmas. Jonas has never heard of grandparents. In his community, parents cease to be a part of children’s lives once the children have grown up—children do not even know when their parents are released. He understands that his organized society works well, but he felt a feeling in the room that he liked. The Giver tells him that the feeling is love, and Jonas says that he wishes his own family could be like the family in the memory and that the Giver could be his grandparent. At home that evening, he asks his parents if they love him. They laugh and tell him to use more precise language: the word “love” is so general that it is almost meaningless. They enjoy him, and they are proud of him, but they cannot say they love him. Jonas pretends to agree with them, but secretly he does not understand. That night, he tells little Gabriel—who can only sleep through the night when Jonas gives him memories—that if things were different in the community, there could be colors and grandparents and love. The next morning, Jonas decides to stop taking his morning pill.
The Giver’s role in making decisions for the community explains the importance of his position. He is not just a mystic who holds onto out-of-date emotions and sensations despite that they are no longer useful to the community. He is the only person in the community who can prevent mistakes from being repeated, which is the practical function of history. In this sense, the Giver’s job is as practical and necessary as any other in the community: through his wisdom, he keeps the community well fed and well ordered just as much as the Fish Hatchery Attendant or the Nurturer do.
But the Giver’s presence somehow still undermines the impression of logic and order that we get from the community. The Committee of Elders does not base its decisions on real logic or reason because it lacks the resources to make any kind of considered decision about anything (the characters in the novel constantly make jokes about the Committee’s painfully slow decision-making process.) The resource they need is experience, and as a culture, Jonas’s community lacks experience: it destroys experience. On the issue of adding a third child to every family, the Committee did not take the Giver’s advice because they thought about his argument and realized that too many people would lead to a lack of resources. They took his advice on blind faith, because they lacked any other way of making a choice. Choice is impossible without memory, just as freedom is impossible without choice.
The pain Jonas experiences isolates him further from his family and friends when he realizes that they have never experienced any real pain, but at the same time it drives him to try to forge deeper connections with other people—his parents and the newchild Gabriel. Jonas learns about love when he receives the memory of the family at Christmas, but he learns about true compassion in his experience on the battlefield. The contrast between his painful memories and his pleasurable memories is strong, but not as strong as the contrast between the memories and the colorless realities of life in Jonas’s community. Jonas’s pain gives new depth and value to his pleasure. We realize that the citizens of the community lack the capacity for pleasure not only because it would destabilize the society, but also because it is impossible to experience deep pleasure without having experienced pain, and they have consciously eliminated pain.
Jonas’s attempt to reach out to his parents fails when they tell him that they do not love him. They emphasize precision of language, but that particular kind of precision actually limits the expressiveness of their language. Jonas knows that the feeling of love exists and that to reduce it to simpler feelings, like enjoyment and pride, is useless as well as imprecise. We see how the “precise” language the community uses for things often drains them of meaning: “pride” and “enjoyment” do not express the feeling of love, and “release” does not express the idea of death. Although we do not know for sure at this point in the novel that release is death, we have a strong suspicion. The use of the word “release,” though it might be technically correct, makes it too easy to ignore what really happens when someone dies.
Jonas’s attempts to connect with Gabriel are much more successful. In possibly breaking the rules of his Assignment by transmitting memories to the baby, Jonas is also breaking a more unspoken rule against forming too close a bond with an individual. After experiencing the Christmas scene, with grandparents who remain part of their children’s lives long after their practical function as parents is finished, Jonas craves the kind of close, selfish relationship with another human that his society discourages. He says he understands that this kind of close family life is a “dangerous” way to live, trying to justify his statement by saying that the candles and fire in the loving family’s living room are dangerous to have indoors. The fire and candles, however, serve as symbols for the warmth and light of human love, and that love is dangerous because it would upset the delicate balance of Jonas’s society. But warmth and light are necessary for survival, and Jonas begins to feel that love is too. It is important to note that the depiction of the family at Christmas seems to idealize the traditional family group and reject the system of Nurturers and Caretakers presented by Jonas’s community. This rejection is based on the lack of love and lasting relationships to be found within Jonas’s community, and not necessarily on its nontraditional structure. This need for close relationships and desire for the strong emotion that accompanies them influences Jonas’s decision to stop taking his pills.
Jonas stops taking the pills just so he can experience the sensation of wanting something, not because he has hopes to start a sexual relationship with another person. He wants to feel capable of making choices, and he wants to want things—nothing will change if he does not want it to very badly. The only person he can connect with, besides the Giver, is the newchild Gabriel. As a new human being, Gabriel symbolizes the hope for change. Jonas can give Gabriel his memories and his love because he has not yet been conditioned to live like everyone else in the community.
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