Now that it was almost upon him, he wasn’t frightened, but he was… eager, he decided. He was eager for it to come. And he was excited, certainly. All of the Elevens were excited about the event that would be coming so soon. But there was a little shudder of nervousness when he thought about it, about what might happen. Apprehensive, Jonas decided. That’s what I am.
Jonas obsessively searches for the correct word choice for his feelings. This emphasis on word choice is a key facet of his society, which values accuracy and objectivity above all else. This window into Jonas’s mind shows us how deeply he has been indoctrinated by his community, mimicking past reprimands from his parents by policing himself internally.
[T]he apple had changed. Just for an instant. It had changed in mid-air, he remembered. Then it was in his hand, and he looked at it carefully, but it was the same apple. Unchanged. The same size and shape: a perfect sphere. The same nondescript shade, about the same shade as his own tunic.
The narrator describes Jonas’s experience with this apple, which is one of the first signs that he can see more deeply than others. We eventually learn that the “change” he witnessed was the color red. Jonas’s world is colorless, so he has no words to describe the sensation of color when he suddenly can see the apple’s hue. He’s seen something outside of the world he knows, and this deeper sight will allow him to flourish under the Giver’s guidance.
The dream had felt pleasurable. Though the feelings were confused, he thought that he had liked the feelings that his mother had called Stirrings. He remembered that upon waking, he had wanted to feel the Stirrings again.
The narrator explains Jonas reflecting on an erotic dream he had about his friend Fiona, and how his mother explained that those feelings in his dream could be cured with a pill. Jonas’s realization that he wants to hold on to his Stirrings is one of the first instances where he learns the allure of feelings. His society would rather any strong feelings be erased, but Jonas is no longer so sure.
But she had skipped him. He saw the others in his group glance at him, embarrassed, and then avert their eyes quickly. He saw a worried look on the face of his group leader. He hunched his shoulders and tried to make himself smaller in the seat. He wanted to disappear, to fade away, not to exist.
The narrator details the ceremony where Jonas and other twelve-year-olds are assigned jobs for their adult lives. The Chief Elder neglects to call Jonas’s name, and Jonas panics. He has been so conditioned by the order and consistency of his life that this unexpected break in regulations is shattering. He assumes the worst, trying to think of what he may have done wrong, desperate to understand why he’s been dealt the terrible fate of being singled out as an individual.
He had never, within his memory, been tempted to lie. Asher did not lie. Lily did not lie. His parents did not lie. No one did. Unless… Now Jonas had a thought that he had never had before. This thought was frightening. What if others—adults—had, upon becoming Twelves, received in their instructions the same terrifying sentence? What if they had all been instructed: You may lie?
When Jonas receives the instructions for his assignment as the Receiver, he learns that part of his new job is being allowed to lie. Jonas’s reaction shows how tenuous the balance of his society really is, and how powerful information can be. If just one kernel of extra knowledge has shaken his faith in his society and prompted countless difficult questions, it is no wonder information is so strictly withheld.
His face cut through the frigid air as he began the descent, moving through the substance called snow on the vehicle called sled, which propelled itself on what he now knew without doubt to be runners. Comprehending all of those things as he sped downward, he was free to enjoy the breathless glee that overwhelmed him.
The narrator details Jonas’s experience with the first memory the Giver offers him, a moment when Jonas feels a height of joy he has never known before. Up until now, the sameness of his life has made any peaks or valleys of feeling impossible. Now, this first experience of unbridled joy opens up Jonas’s mind to an entire universe of possibility. He has taken his first step towards becoming the Receiver.
Once more, toward dawn, the newchild woke and cried out. Again Jonas went to him. This time he quite deliberately placed his hand firmly on Gabriel’s back, and released the rest of the calming day on the lake. Again Gabriel slept.
Here, the narrator explains a time when Jonas uses the newfound abilities he has learned from the Giver to transmit memories to a sleeping infant. At first, Jonas tried to pass on memories and feelings to his family members, excited to share the strong emotions he had discovered. Disappointingly, they were all incapable of receiving or understanding what he had to offer. Now, Jonas begins to see the untarnished Gabriel as the only hope for the future.
“Do you understand why it’s inappropriate to use a word like ‘love’?” Mother asked. Jonas nodded. “Yes, thank you, I do,” he replied slowly. It was his first lie to his parents.
When Jonas asks his parents if they love him, he is met only with their confusion, which hurts him deeply. Now that Jonas’s training with the Giver has opened him up to a world of emotion, he fully sees what is missing from his everyday life. The more he understands, the more he feels separated from anyone else. His parents don’t even realize how much they have hurt him.
“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to care about the rest of them.” The Giver looked at him with a questioning smile. Jonas hung his head. Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.
As Jonas and the Giver plot Jonas’s escape, Jonas’s growing bitterness towards his society surprises even himself, and he learns the difficulty of compassion. He’s recently found out the Elders secretly put people to death, and as such, readers understand his desire to turn his back on them. Knowing better than that is the true burden of the Receiver: understanding enough to see how far their society has fallen, and still caring for their wellbeing anyway.
Once he had yearned for choice. Then, when he had had a choice, he had made the wrong one: the choice to leave. And now he was starving. But if he had stayed… His thoughts continued. If he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways. He would have lived a life hungry for feelings, for color, for love. And Gabriel? For Gabriel there would have been no life at all. So there had not really been a choice.
After escaping from the town into the wilderness, Jonas begins to doubt his gambit: Life in town was suffocating, but at least he had food, shelter, and safety. The Giver’s teachings, however, remind him to stay the course. Jonas has fully become the Receiver, knowing that a life in which emotional needs are subordinated to practical needs is not worth living. With Gabriel as inspiration, Jonas must survive to pass on his knowledge to future generations.