The Giver is the story of Jonas gradually coming to reject the values of the society he has grown up with, a society that prizes “Sameness” above everything else. By the end of the novel, Jonas embraces a new set of values entirely. In the community in which Jonas has grown up, people have very little individual liberty or choice. Instead, they live according to prescriptive rules and are allowed no personal feelings or privacy. The benefit of living in such a world is that there is virtually no pain. After Jonas receives the memory of breaking his leg, he reflects that no one else knows what this feels like: “They have never known pain, he thought.” Over the course of the novel, Jonas comes to realize that pain is the price you must pay for sensual and emotional pleasures. This is demonstrated clearly by the way he receives first the memory of the pleasure of “sunshine” and then soon after the memory of the pain of “sunburn.” The risk of sunburn is the price you pay for the pleasure of sunshine.
The inciting incident that sets the plot in motion is Jonas being chosen as the new “Receiver of Memory.” This change in his circumstances enables him to gain a different perspective on the world he has grown up in. Immediately after Jonas begins receiving memories, he is attracted to an alternative life from the one the community offers. After his first memory of sledding, Jonas asks excitedly, “Why don't we have snow, and hedges, and hills?” The Giver explains that these things were rejected in favor of efficiency, as “[s]now made growing food difficult” and hills “made conveyance of goods unwieldy.” Jonas replies, “I wish we had those things still,” which is the first hint of his eventual rebellion.
Jonas's desire to change the social order gradually develops as he continues his training as Receiver of Memory. He realizes that as he and the Giver are the only ones who receive the memories, they have an unfair burden placed upon them. However, he also feels increasingly sorry for his friends and family for not knowing the pleasures he knows, as they are not able to see color or to experience love. He suggests that he and the Giver apply for a change in the rules, but they both know this is a futile idea. Although Jonas wants things to change, at this point he still wants to work within the system and has not yet come to reject the community's values entirely.
The main forces of antagonism that Jonas must overcome in the novel are the comfort and security that are provided by life in the community. After Jonas receives the memory of warfare, he is so disheartened that he wants to give up on his journey of self-discovery and go back to the ignorant bliss in which he used to live. “He didn't want the memories, he didn't want the honor, he didn't want the wisdom, he didn't want the pain. He wanted his childhood again,” Lowry writes. And again, at the end of the novel, Jonas has misgivings as he attempts to escape the community with Gabe. He worries that he has made the wrong choice, and that both he and Gabe will die of cold and hunger, things he never had to struggle with inside the community.
The despondency Jonas briefly feels is transformed into a spur to action when he learns the true nature of the releases. For the first time in his life, he experiences the full force of moral indignation, denouncing his father and other members of the community as murderers. Now he has the sufficient determination to bring about real change by launching a full-blown rebellion against the community's order. He does this by fleeing the bounds of the community and thereby releasing all the memories he has received over the past year. In the final paragraphs of the novel, Jonas arrives somewhere new and hears music for the first time, symbolizing his emergence into a better world of beauty and of feeling. However, the final sentence, “perhaps it was only an echo” casts some doubt on this hope, leaving the ending of the novel open to interpretation.
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