Jonas reports to the Annex of the House of the Old for his first day of training. An Attendant admits him to the Receiver’s living area, which is locked to ensure the Receiver’s privacy, even though no one else in the community locks their doors. The living area is more luxurious than average, and its walls are lined with hundreds of thick, beautifully bound books, very different from the three reference volumes (dictionary, community volume, Book of Rules) available in every other household. Jonas cannot imagine what could be inside them. He meets the Receiver, who greets him as the new Receiver of Memory and tells him that although he, the old Receiver, is not as old as he looks, he will need to use the last of his strength to train Jonas. He says that the process involves transmitting all of the memories he has of the past to Jonas. Jonas wonders why listening to stories from the old man’s childhood is so important that he cannot just do it in his spare time, leaving him free to work at an adult job in the community. The Receiver replies that the memories he will give Jonas are not just memories from his childhood. They are the memories of the entire world, going back through generations and generations of Receivers. These memories of communities and worlds before Jonas’s community bring wisdom and help the community to shape its future. The Receiver feels weighed down by so many memories and compares the feeling to a sled slowing down as it has to push against more and more accumulated snow.
Jonas does not understand the comparison, because he has never seen snow or a sled. The Receiver decides to transmit the memory of snow to him. He instructs Jonas to take off his tunic and lie face-down on the bed. Then he goes to the speaker, which is just like the speaker that transmits announcements in every house, and turns it off, something that no one else in the community can do. He places his hands on Jonas’s back, and Jonas begins to feel the sensation of cold air, then of snowflakes touching his face. He experiences the wonderful sensation of going downhill on a sled, feeling the exhilaration of movement and speed even though he has never felt snow or strong wind or even a hill. In his community, all hills have been leveled to make transportation easier, and snow disappeared with the onset of climate control that made agriculture more efficient. When the experience is over, the Receiver tells Jonas that the memory is a very distant one, from before the time when “we went to Sameness.” Jonas says that he wishes snow and hills still existed, and asks the Receiver why he does not use his great power to bring them back. The Receiver answers that great honor is not the same thing as great power. He then gives Jonas the memory of sunshine, and Jonas perceives the word for “sunshine” at the same time that he perceives the sensation of it. Afterward he asks about the pain he will experience, and the Receiver gives him the mild pain of a sunburn in order to get him used to the idea. Jonas finds the experience interesting, if not pleasant. When he leaves, he asks the Receiver what he should call him now that he, Jonas, is the new Receiver. The Receiver, drained from their day’s work, says to call him the Giver.
The comparative luxury of the Giver’s living area reflects his honored position in the community, but it also sets him apart: he needs different surroundings in order to do his job. He spends most of his life in the world of the past, so he probably craves the sensual and aesthetic comforts that the pre-Sameness world valued. His job also involves enduring pain, so as compensation his environment is comfortable and luxurious. One of the luxuries seems to be his enormous collection of books. Jonas cannot imagine what the books contain: he only knows the three reference books his family owns. We realize that Jonas has never read a book for pleasure, and this makes sense: reading is a solitary, isolating pursuit. Sitting alone with a book all day encourages people to draw too deeply into themselves rather than participate in activities that help the community or strengthen social bonds between community members.
The luxury of the Giver’s apartment and his extensive library remind us of similar living quarters in other dystopian novels, such as 1984 and Brave New World. In these novels, most of the population lives according to the dystopian community’s rules, foregoing individual pursuits for the community’s gain, submitting to government surveillance, and substituting group mentality for intellectual inquiry. But in each novel, characters who are part of the elite classes ignore the rules that they themselves helped to create, preferring the artifacts of a culture they destroyed or rejected to the amusements of the society they govern and maintain. This suggests that great works of art, often inspired by passion, pain, and other disorderly influences, are always powerful and relevant, even in societies that claim to have gotten rid of passion and pain.
Although the Giver is not as hypocritical as the elite characters in 1984 and Brave New World—they read Shakespeare and Plato for their own pleasure, while he uses his knowledge to help the community make decisions—the Giver’s library and the Giver himself represent this same idea in Lowry’s novel. Although the society has rejected the powerful emotions and dangerous freedom of thought that produced great works of art in the past, it cannot function without the wisdom contained in those works or without the Giver’s wisdom. The fact that books, memory, love, and pain must exist somewhere in the society, even if they exist only in one room or in the mind of one man, shows that these things are more valuable and timeless than Jonas’s community would like to think. Humans cannot escape them.
When the Giver explains that snow, hills, and sleds all vanished when the community went to Sameness, he gives a name to Jonas’s society for the first time. We have already noticed that everyone in the community strives to be the same, but applying the term Sameness to the physical details of the environment as well as to the behavior and psychology of the inhabitants helps to explain the rationale behind the community philosophy. The hills have been leveled and the climate controlled because it makes farming and transportation more efficient and life much easier. Long ago, the same people who made these decisions must have thought that life would be more efficient if everyone looked and thought and dressed the same too: it was a practical decision. At the same time, the physical Sameness of the environment serves as a powerful metaphor for the emotional and intellectual monotony of life in the community. There are no extremes of cold or heat, no exhilarating sled rides or depressing moments. The land is as flat and changeless as the inhabitants’ lives.
The Giver’s method of transmitting memories is also significant in this section. He can give Jonas the experience of a ride on a sled simply by placing his hands on his back, a technique that seems magical, or at least extremely ritualistic. All of the events connected with memory in The Giver seem to be suffused with religion and ritual: the ritualistic Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony, Jonas’s acceptance by the community as the new Receiver, the Giver’s mysterious laying on of hands that produces powerful visions. In some ways, the Giver is the closest thing to a priest in the community, able to touch the mind and soul with the touch of his hands, just as he and Jonas can “see” deeper aspects of human experience with their unusual eyes.
Note that the Giver touches Jonas’s bare back with his bare hands, a highly unusual action in a society that forbids citizens to see each other’s nakedness. We are reminded of Jonas’s contact with the old woman, Larissa, when he bathed her in the tub. He felt a strong sense of trust and connection that was rare in his daily interactions with friends and family. Now that sense of trust and human connection is closely tied with the receiving of memories, suggesting that memory creates and maintains close, meaningful human relationships and that those relationships do not exist in a world without memory.
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