No one mentioned such things; it was not a rule, but was considered rude to call attention to things that were unsettling or different about individuals.
Jonas notes that he is one of the few community members with light eyes—most of the citizens’ eyes are dark—but no one would dare mention this to him for fear of offending him. To many readers, the idea that such a distinctive feature would be a source of shame is confusing, as many of our societies place value on individuality. In Jonas’s society, however, adherence to the sameness of the community is the highest priority, and so standing out at all is considered an embarrassment.
[L]ight eyes were not only a rarity but gave the one who had them a certain look—what was it?
Depth, he decided; as if one were looking into the clear water of the river, down to the bottom, where things might lurk which hadn’t been discovered yet.
Jonas compares his own light eyes to the unsettling depths of water, connecting the idea of individuality with danger. If someone stands out from the norm, then naturally that person would start to question the validity of that norm. Only through his lessons with the Giver will Jonas learn that our depths are what define us, and should be explored and celebrated not feared and ignored.
[I]t was an activity that he had performed countless times: throw, catch; throw, catch. It was effortless for Jonas, and even boring, though Asher enjoyed it.
The narrator details a scene in which Jonas’s friend Asher provides an example of their society’s flattening of individuality. Asher is entertained by the most basic of activities, having never been taught to explore his own depths and find unique things that interest him. Jonas feels bored with the sameness of everything, but his individuality isn’t much better developed than Asher’s, since he doesn’t yet understand himself enough to know what he would prefer to do.
But each child knew his number, of course. Sometimes parents used them in irritation at a child’s misbehavior, indicating that mischief made one unworthy of a name.
Jonas is recalling seeing parents revoke their children’s basic individuality as a punishment. To keep everything organized, people in the town are assigned a number as well as a name, and are only given that name on their first birthday, having lived a year as just a number. Though the numbering serves a logistical purpose, the system also carries an insidious undertone: At your base, you are more a statistic than a person, and anything that makes you feel like a person can be taken away at a moment’s notice. The numbering system subordinates individuals to the larger community.
“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to
careabout 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.
Jonas is learning the limits at the opposite end of individuality: If he were to completely separate himself from people, then he’d be just as inhuman as the conformist drones in the village. True humanity requires balance. Jonas must learn when to prioritize himself, and when to look out for his fellow people, and that both are important. Of course, balance is one of the most difficult things to learn and achieve, a fact that accounts for the current state of Jonas’s town.