These two chapters also reveal the ways in which the society sometimes regards its members as tools rather than as human beings, and the ways in which traditional family relationships are erased. The Birthmothers are treated well only until they have produced their allotted three children for the community. Afterward, they are given a life of hard labor. This custom suggests an extremely practical attitude toward human life: the women are valued for the usefulness of their bodies, and as soon as that usefulness begins to dwindle, their value decreases. The role of mother is not sentimentalized as it is in our society. In fact, very little is sentimentalized: the Old are treated like children and cared for by people with whom they might have had no relationship in their childhood or adulthood. They are kept ignorant—as are most members of the community—about what happens when they are released from the society.
At the same time, young volunteers are able to experience a degree of tenderness with the Old that they cannot experience with anyone else except newchildren. When the Old are no longer functional members of society, they are still treated with kindness and sometimes with respect. Newchildren are treated with tenderness and affection—Jonas’s father’s concern for Gabriel’s welfare is genuine, as is his delight in playing games with the children he nurtures and his sadness at the prospect of releasing them. Although close, lasting relationships with friends and family might not exist, one of the positive qualities of Jonas’s community is the entire community’s willingness to take care of children, the Old, and each other. Later in the novel, when the negative aspects of Jonas’s community come to the fore, it will be helpful to remember that those negative aspects are the price the community pays for a genuinely tranquil and neighborly lifestyle.