Four weeks after Jonas stops taking his pills, an unscheduled holiday is declared in the community. His Stirrings have returned, and he has pleasurable dreams that make him feel a little guilty, but he refuses to give up the heightened feelings that the Stirrings and his wonderful memories have given him. Jonas realizes that he now experiences a new depth of feeling. He understands that the feelings his family and friends call anger and sadness and happiness are nothing like the feelings of rage and despair and joy he knows through his memories. On this particular holiday, Jonas refuses to participate with his friends in a game of good guys and bad guys, because he recognizes it as a war game. He tries to explain to his friends that the game is a cruel mockery of a horrible reality, but they are only puzzled and annoyed. He leaves his friends, knowing that they cannot understand his feelings or even return the strong love that he feels for them. At home, he feels better when he sees Gabe, who has learned to walk and to say his own name. His father talks about the upcoming release of one of the identical twins that will be born the next day. Jonas asks his father if he will actually take the newchild Elsewhere, and his father says no. He will only select the child with the lowest birthweight, perform a Ceremony of Release, and wave goodbye. Someone else will come and get him from Elsewhere. Lily speculates about two identical twins growing up with the same name, one here and one Elsewhere.
The next day, Jonas asks the Giver if he thinks about release. The Giver says he thinks of his own when he is in great pain, but that he cannot apply for release until Jonas is trained. Jonas cannot ask for release either, a rule that was created after the failure of the new Receiver ten years ago. At Jonas’s insistence, the Giver tells him what happened. The failed Receiver was intelligent and eager to learn, and her name was Rosemary. The Giver tells Jonas that he loved her, and that he loves Jonas in the same way. When Rosemary’s training began, she loved experiencing new things, and the Giver started with happy memories that would make her laugh. But she wanted more difficult memories. The Giver could not bring himself to give her physical pain, but at her insistence he gave her loneliness, loss, poverty, and fear. After a very hard session, she kissed the Giver’s cheek and left. He never saw her again. Later, he learned that she had applied for release that day. Jonas knows that he cannot apply for release, but he asks the Giver what would happen if he accidentally drowned in the river, carrying a year’s worth of memories with him. The Giver tells him it would be a disaster: his memories would not be lost, but instead all of the people in the community would have them, and they would not be able to deal with them. The Giver becomes thoughtful and says that if that happened, perhaps he could help the community to deal with the memories in the same way that he helps Jonas, but that he would need more time to think about it. He warns Jonas to stay away from the river, just in case.
The attitudes that Asher and Lily have toward violence and release are typical, since neither understands what violence and death really entail. For Lily in particular, and also for Jonas, the precision of the word “release” allows her to totally ignore the pain, suffering, and sadness that often accompany death, since she literally believes that released children are raised by families in other communities. Treating release as only slightly more serious than a journey is made possible by the word itself, since it can have other meanings besides death.
Jonas, too, still does not understand what release really means. Since Jonas suffered death and pain through the Giver’s memories, we might expect him to suspect the truth. However, though Jonas is well versed in the ways of the world before Sameness, his memories have taught him nothing about life in his community. His time with the Giver has made him aware of what his community does not offer (color, desire, pain), but it has not revealed any of the secrets concealed beneath his society’s veneer of tranquility. Jonas does not associate the idea of release with his new understanding of physical pain. Instead, he is curious because his recent exposure to psychological pain—to real loneliness and real happiness—makes him wonder about the difficult separation from the community, and his new isolation that makes him wonder about the ultimate isolation of release.
Rosemary, the name of the failed Receiver, is also the name of an herb that is associated with remembrance. Rosemary was an appropriate choice for Receiver, but the fact that after her failure it was forbidden to speak her name again is telling: after their unpleasant experience dealing with all of Rosemary’s released memories, the community wanted nothing to do with remembrance, and their rejection of her name constitutes a double rejection of memory.
It is interesting to note that though the Giver could not bear to give Rosemary physical pain, he allowed himself to give her pain that some people might consider to be far worse than physical pain. He subjects Jonas to a broken leg, starvation, and war wounds, but these agonies eventually subside. Apparently—at least at the time—he thought Rosemary was better suited to endure loneliness and fear. The community seems to have eliminated gender roles when it went to Sameness, and yet a few traditional gender stereotypes remain: girls and boys have different hairstyles, for example, and the Giver at least seems to think girls should be treated with more physical gentleness.
When Jonas discusses the fact that he is forbidden to request release with the Giver, it is interesting to think of the complex meanings that the word “release” has in this book. Release means death, and therefore it connotes sadness and loss to us, but to the community someone’s release can be cause for joy, sadness, or enormous shame. For Jonas, who has been exposed to feelings and memories that no one else in the community besides the Giver shares, the word is even more complicated. Release from the community could be shameful or painful, but it would also mean a kind of escape from an oppressive, limiting society.
Although he is the first Receiver to be denied the right to request release, Jonas also becomes the first one to crave and to accomplish real release: an escape from the society. The release that Rosemary sought is possible for Jonas, without using any euphemisms. As we will see in later chapters, Jonas manages to physically leave the community alive, to actually explore Elsewhere. Far from being the only member of the community who cannot be released, he is the only one who can and will be released. At the same time, Jonas has already been released from the hold that the community keeps on all of its citizens, and his Assignment as the Receiver is the very thing that released him. He can see beyond the rules and conventions of the society he lives in, and he can feel things that no one else in the society can feel.
When Jonas alludes to the child Caleb’s death in the river, he is imagining situations that are beyond the community’s control: accidents that the community cannot prevent or even expect. Though Jonas is not consciously thinking of ways to subvert the society, the mention of the river reminds us and the Giver that the community is fragile in many ways and still vulnerable to natural disasters and accidents. The Giver warns Jonas not to go near the river, but even as he says this, Jonas is beginning to consider the river a way out. Since it flows through the community from Elsewhere, the river is a physical symbol of escape from the community, and the untamed natural power that it possesses represents the way a tide of unexpected feelings and sensations could change the community for good.