Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The motif of vision runs throughout The Giver, from the first mention of Jonas’s unusual pale eyes to the final image of the lights twinkling in the village in Elsewhere. For most of the novel, vision represents all perception, both sensory and emotional. Jonas’s eyes, which appear to be “deeper” than other people’s, are actually able to see more deeply into objects than other people’s eyes: Jonas is one of the few people in the community who can see color. Jonas’s perception of color symbolizes his perception of the complicated emotions and sensations that other people cannot perceive: he sees life differently from the rest of the community. Jonas shares his abilities with the Giver and Gabe, both of whom have eyes the same color as his. Although the ending of the novel is ambiguous, we know that Jonas sees the village in his mind, even if the village does not really exist.
In Jonas’s community, it is forbidden to look at naked people, unless they are very young or very old. Moments involving physical nakedness are closely related to the idea of emotional nakedness: Jonas feels an emotional connection with the old woman, Larissa, when she trusts him to wash her body, and his training involves receiving memories through his bare back. Both situations involve trust and intimacy; both are curiously related to the idea of freedom. Jonas thinks of the naked woman as “free,” perhaps because he associates her physical nudity with a mind bare of the constraints his society places on human behavior, and the information that the Giver transmits to him is liberating in much the same way—it helps him to look beyond the community’s rules and beliefs. Nakedness is also related to innocence and childishness: the Old can be seen naked because they are treated like children, and Jonas’s relationship to the Giver is like a child’s to his father or grandfather.
Though few people know it, the word “release” actually
refers to death—or murder—in Jonas’s society, but throughout The
Giver, the word means different things to different people.
At the beginning of the novel, most of the characters truly believe
that people who are released are physically sent to Elsewhere, the
world beyond the limits of the community. Release is frightening
or sad because no one would want to leave the community, not because
it involves violence or death. Later, when Jonas discovers the real
meaning of release, the word becomes ominous. At the end of the
novel, however, when Jonas escapes despite the fact that he is forbidden
to request release, he changes the meaning of the word once again, restoring
its original meaning—an escape from the physical and psychological
hold of the community.
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