He remembered that upon waking he had wanted to feel the Stirrings again. Then, in the same way that his own dwelling slipped away behind him as he rounded a corner on his bicycle, the dream slipped away from his thoughts. Very briefly, a little guiltily, he tried to grasp it back. But the feelings had disappeared. The Stirrings were gone.
Jonas, having confessed that he has started to feel attraction for a girl, here feels the effects of a pill his parents gave him to quell his desires. Jonas first felt these “Stirrings” in a dream the previous night about his friend, Fiona. The feeling was exciting to him, and he tries to recall the dream to bring the feeling again, yearning to experience what the reader recognizes as a key part of growing up. However, the pill causes this memory to fade into dullness. The control of memory allows this society to keep people from experiencing strong human feelings.
[H]ave you ever once known of anyone—I mean really known for sure, Asher, not just heard a story about it—who joined another community?
Jonas questions the accuracy of his friend Asher’s claim about a rumor he heard. This state of uncertainty, and disagreement over memories and facts, is purposefully maintained by the society’s rules and government. A populace with a hazy memory is far easier to control, because memory allows us to learn and formulate questions. Without any certainty of what did or did not happen, all that can be trusted is the present moment, and the present moment without the context of the past is just stasis.
The entire community had performed the Ceremony of Loss together, murmuring the name Caleb throughout an entire day, less and less frequently, softer in volume, as the long and somber day went on, so that the little Four seemed to fade away gradually from everyone’s consciousness.
In another example of the mandated removal of memory, Jonas here remembers a time when a child fell into the river, and the community purposefully forgot the tragedy to negate their sadness. The parents of the child were even given a replacement child with the same name as the child they lost: Caleb. This awful ritual exemplifies the importance of memory to personhood. Without memories, those we have lost may as well never have existed.
[T]he hunger had caused excruciating spasms in his empty, distended stomach. He lay on the bed, aching. “Why do you and I have to hold these memories?” “It gives us wisdom,” The Giver replied.
Only the Giver truly understands why we need memory, and here he explains that need to Jonas. A key part of Jonas’s training with the Giver is receiving both extremes of memory—the ecstatically joyful memories, and the crushingly painful memories. Jonas questions the necessity of remembering bad things, but the Giver reminds him that our memories of failure and hurt are crucial to self-improvement. There is no learning without memory, and humans’ capacity to learn is what makes us who we are. Even the Elders of the community understand this, having tasked the Giver with remembering what they cannot.
The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.
The Giver explains to Jonas that memories go hand-in-hand with human connection. Our best memories are often with others, and sharing them with someone else is what makes those memories real. As the only person left who can truly remember, the Giver feels a profound isolation: knowing the depth of human experience, but having no one else who would understand enough to feel that depth with him. Jonas’s ability to understand the Giver’s experience will bond the two irrevocably to each other.