We really have to protect people from wrong choices.
After Jonas receives his first memory, he finds that it is not too hard to obey the rules that come with his position. His family is used to his not dreaming frequently, so they do not question him much at dream-telling time. His friends are so busy describing their own training experiences that he can just sit still and listen, knowing that he could not even begin to explain what happens in his training. As they bicycle to the House of the Old together, he talks with his friend Fiona about her training as a Caretaker of the Old and notices her hair change the way the apple changed. At the Giver’s living space, Jonas tells him about the changes, wondering if that is what the Giver means by seeing beyond. The Giver says that for him, his first experiences with seeing beyond took a different form, one that Jonas would not understand yet. He asks Jonas to remember the sled from yesterday, and Jonas notices that the sled has the same strange quality as Fiona’s hair and the apple—it does not change as they did, it just has the quality. The Giver tells Jonas that he is beginning to see the color red, explaining that at one time everything in the world had color as well as shape and size. The reason that the sled is just red, instead of turning red, is that it is a memory from a time when color existed. Jonas remarks that red is beautiful and wonders why his community got rid of it, and the Giver tells him that in order to gain control of certain things, the society had to let go of others. Jonas says that they should not have done so, and the Giver tells Jonas that he is quickly acquiring wisdom.
As Jonas’s training progresses, he learns about all the different colors and begins to see them fleetingly in his daily life. He decides that it is unfair that nothing in his society has color—he wants to have the freedom to choose between things that are different. Then he realizes that if people had the power to make choices, they might make the wrong choices. It would be unsafe to allow people to choose their spouse or their job, but he still feels frustrated. He wishes his friends and family could see the world the way he sees it. He makes Asher stare at a flowerbed, hoping Asher will notice the colors, but Asher becomes uncomfortable. Another time, after the Giver transmits a memory of an elephant mourning the death of another elephant that was brutally killed by poachers, he tries to give the memory to Lily, hoping that she will understand that her toy elephant is a representation of something that was once real and majestic and awe-inspiring. It does not work.
Jonas’s training makes him curious. He asks if the Giver is allowed to have a spouse, and the Giver says that he did have a spouse once—now she lives with the Childless Adults, as almost all adults do when their children are grown and their family units have dissolved. The Giver tells him that being the Receiver makes family life difficult—Jonas will not be able to share his memories or books with his spouse or children. The Giver tells Jonas that his whole life will be nothing more than the memories he possesses. He occasionally will appear before the Committee of Elders to give them advice, but his primary function is to contain all the painful memories that the community cannot endure. When the new Receiver who was selected ten years before failed, all the memories she had received returned to the community, and the whole community suffered until the memories were assimilated. The Giver tells Jonas that his instructors know nothing, despite their scientific knowledge, because all of their knowledge is meaningless without the memories the Giver carries. Jonas notices that the Giver’s memories give him pain, and he wonders what causes it. He also wonders what lies Elsewhere, beyond his community. The Giver decides to give Jonas a memory of strong pain so that he can bear some of the Giver’s pain for him.
Jonas’s alienation from his community intensifies as he begins to question the values with which he grew up. As his physical vision deepens and changes, allowing him to see the color red, his metaphorical vision also deepens and changes, allowing him to see how empty the lives of his friends and family are compared to his own. He tries to transmit the idea of color to Asher and the memory of elephants to Lily, but he fails: unlike Jonas, his friends are physically incapable of seeing color, and they have no reason to believe that elephants exist. Perhaps Jonas could give Asher and Lily these sensations if he could manage to touch their skin, but the rules and conventions of his society make that impossible. Physical nakedness becomes a metaphor for emotional bareness: Jonas’s friends cannot share his experience because their society makes them reluctant to show their bare skin, but it is equally impossible for them to show their bare emotions because they do not even know they have them. In order to share Jonas’s experience, Asher and Lily would need to trust him totally. They would need to be entirely open to the ideas he shared with them, and the society they have grown up in has made that kind of openness almost impossible. Jonas’s experiences with them foreshadow the Giver’s explanation, later in this section, that the Receiver cannot share his experiences and knowledge with his loved ones. It is forbidden, but it is also almost physically impossible.
These chapters draw close connections between color and emotion—another example of Lowry’s use of physical imagery to symbolize deeper, nonphysical sensations. The memories that the Giver has transmitted to Jonas so far are mostly memories of the natural world or of solitary experiences, and yet Jonas is gaining a stronger sense of the complex emotions. When he tries to transmit the color red to Asher and the idea of an elephant to Lily, he is really trying to transmit the intense feelings of pleasure and surprise that the world of color has opened up to him or the sense of pity, awe, and love that he got from the relationship between the two elephants. When Jonas apologizes for hurting Lily with his efforts to make her understand what a real elephant is like, she answers with indifference: “’ccept your apology.” The contrast between her casual treatment of an apology—a social formula that was once an expression of real pain and regret—and Jonas’s emotional response to the elephants is strong, and illustrates that the members of Jonas’s community are immune to powerful feelings. Although the community insists on precision of language, many words in the society have lost the emotional resonance that was once so important to their meaning.
When Jonas and the Giver discuss the reason that there are no colors in the community anymore, Jonas agrees with the Giver’s statement that “[w]e gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.” He is angry at first that the lack of color makes it difficult to exercise free choice, but when he realizes that being able to choose between a red jersey and a blue jersey might lead people to want to choose spouses and jobs, he concedes that people have to be protected from “wrong choices.” This principle explains the community’s extreme emphasis on Sameness: although choosing one color over another based on personal preference might seem innocent enough, it would be dangerous to the structure of Jonas’s community to allow people even the minor pleasure of making an aesthetic choice. In order to keep them from yearning for more and more personal freedom, the society must make the sensation of choice totally alien to the community members. This strict limitation of all choice indicates that the current state of the society is unnatural: drastic measures must be taken to maintain its artificial order, peace, and lack of personal liberty.
The Giver’s attitude toward science, combined with the mysterious way in which the failed Receiver’s memories returned to plague the community, confirms the dichotomy we noticed earlier between the mystical, religious nature of memory and the logical order of the community and of Sameness. It is possible that Lowry chose to associate memory with magic and mystery in order to give her readers a stronger sense of how strange and inexplicable memory is for the members of the community. Since they have no experience with emotion, pain, history, or love, these ideas must seem as strange and improbable to them as magical powers seem to us. In our own world, where we acknowledge the existence of emotions, we still have trouble explaining human desires and behavior with science. In Jonas’s world, the significance of these forces are almost totally ignored, and somebody who understands them and can communicate them is someone who truly defies logic, science, and everything in the known world.