The antagonist in The Giver is society itself. The primary conflict in The Giver revolves around Jonas’s rejection of his society’s restrictive ideal of Sameness. Although the elders make decisions for the community, they themselves merely uphold a system put in place by their forebears. When Jonas receives memories from The Giver and realizes that he has missed out on all the freedom and beauty of the world, he rejects Sameness, and quickly recognizes that those around him unthinkingly do terrible things in order to maintain a comfortable life. Fiona doesn’t flinch from learning how to release the elderly because she doesn’t understand the full consequences of her actions. Jonas’s father votes for Gabriel’s release because he cannot imagine any other future for a restless child, despite having clearly cared for Gabriel. Without a concept of life outside Sameness, the community has no impetus to stop their comfortable way of life. Jonas cannot change society through direct confrontation, but instead by releasing the memories he received from The Giver and offering the people an opportunity to learn about the world as it once existed. Upon escaping, Jonas hopes that The Giver’s guidance will help the community cope with their newfound collective memories and emotions, and begin to accept suffering and beauty as necessary parts of life.

Read about another novel in which society serves as its primary antagonist, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.