The Giver

  • Study Guide

Chapters 21–23

Summary Chapters 21–23

Jonas’s deep loyalty to and affection for Gabriel also implies a triumph of the heart. Jonas has finally known love and the irrational, genuine sacrifices that we make to help someone we truly love. When he risks his own life for Gabriel, and when hope for Gabriel’s survival keeps him from giving up later in the journey, Jonas has achieved a love for another person that proves love is more than just pride or enjoyment.

When Jonas’s supply of transmitted memories is exhausted, he turns instead to his own memories—of his parents, his friends, and the Giver. These memories can never fade, since they belong entirely to him. The hope that the memories give him shows that Jonas is truly beginning to live Elsewhere. He does not hold onto his personal memories out of practical necessity as the Elders hold onto memory in the form of the Giver. His memories exist simply to give his life meaning and pleasure, and to help him overcome personal obstacles. Love and choice both require memory, and Jonas loves, makes choices, and remembers.

The ending of The Giver is extremely ambiguous and highly controversial. It can be read in two ways: either Jonas and Gabriel have finally arrived at a populated section of Elsewhere—a place that holds on to the traditions that existed before Sameness, where they will be welcomed and loved—or they are both freezing to death, and in their delusion ecstatically imagine details from some of Jonas’s stored memories. Some readers feel that the interpretation of the ending determines the message of the book. If the first interpretation is correct, the novel is optimistic, whereas the second one conveys a completely pessimistic and hopeless message. However, though the ambiguity provokes interesting questions and though the idea of Jonas and Gabriel freezing to death on the sled is a sad one, the message of the book remains optimistic no matter what has happened. In either case, Jonas is filled with real joy when he hears the music and sees the lights, and the story ends with Jonas and Gabriel full of hope, love, happiness, and uncertainty—all things that would never have been a part of their lives had they stayed in the community. When Jonas thinks over the choices he has made on his journey, he decides that “if he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways.” A life full of choice, color, and emotion is more valuable to him than the alternative, no matter how long that life is. If Jonas does die at the end, he still dies only after having really lived. Note how at the end of the novel, Gabriel is referred to as a baby, not a newchild. Jonas and Gabriel are now both more human.

In either case, too, Jonas’s escape from the community has sent his accumulated memories streaming back into the consciousness of the community. Whether or not he hears or imagines their singing behind him, Jonas knows that he has given them what he set out to give them: love and loneliness, freedom and choice. He has become the ultimate Giver of Memory, awakening his entire community to the possibilities of life. If the Christmastime village Jonas sees at the end of the novel does not really exist—if it is only a hallucination—we can still rest assured that in leaving his memories to the community, Jonas is turning his own community into that Christmas village. Enhanced by a new kind of sensory experience—music—that did not exist in Jonas’s received memories, the village is as much a prophecy as it is a memory. The society is moving forward and looking back. The ending is undeniably hopeful.