On the surface, Jonas is like any other eleven-year-old boy living in his community. He seems more intelligent and perceptive than many of his peers, and he thinks more seriously than they do about life, worrying about his own future as well as his friend Asher’s. He enjoys learning and experiencing new things: he chooses to volunteer at a variety of different centers rather than focusing on one, because he enjoys the freedom of choice that volunteer hours provide. He also enjoys learning about and connecting with other people, and he craves more warmth and human contact than his society permits or encourages. The things that really set him apart from his peers—his unusual eyes, his ability to see things change in a way that he cannot explain—trouble him, but he does not let them bother him too much, since the community’s emphasis on politeness makes it easy for Jonas to conceal or ignore these little differences. Like any child in the community, Jonas is uncomfortable with the attention he receives when he is singled out as the new Receiver, preferring to blend in with his friends.
Once Jonas begins his training with the Giver, however, the tendencies he showed in his earlier life—his sensitivity, his heightened perceptual powers, his kindness to and interest in people, his curiosity about new experiences, his honesty, and his high intelligence—make him extremely absorbed in the memories the Giver has to transmit. In turn, the memories, with their rich sensory and emotional experiences, enhance all of Jonas’s unusual qualities. Within a year of training, he becomes extremely sensitive to beauty, pleasure, and suffering, deeply loving toward his family and the Giver, and fiercely passionate about his new beliefs and feelings. Things about the community that used to be mildly perplexing or troubling are now intensely frustrating or depressing, and Jonas’s inherent concern for others and desire for justice makes him yearn to make changes in the community, both to awaken other people to the richness of life and to stop the casual cruelty that is practiced in the community. Jonas is also very determined, committing to a task fully when he believes in it and willing to risk his own life for the sake of the people he loves.
Although as a result of his training Jonas possesses more wisdom than almost anyone else in his community, he is still very young and knows little about life in the community itself. At twelve years old, Jonas is too young to control the powerful emotions that his training unleashes, and the natural hormonal imbalances of preadolesnce make him especially passionate and occasionally unreasonable. Of course, his youth makes it possible for him to receive the memories and learn from them—if he were older, he might be less receptive to new experiences and emotions—but he needs the guidance and wisdom of the Giver, who has life experience as well as memories, to help him keep all of his new experiences in perspective.