When Jonas discusses the fact that he is forbidden to request release with the Giver, it is interesting to think of the complex meanings that the word “release” has in this book. Release means death, and therefore it connotes sadness and loss to us, but to the community someone’s release can be cause for joy, sadness, or enormous shame. For Jonas, who has been exposed to feelings and memories that no one else in the community besides the Giver shares, the word is even more complicated. Release from the community could be shameful or painful, but it would also mean a kind of escape from an oppressive, limiting society.
Although he is the first Receiver to be denied the right to request release, Jonas also becomes the first one to crave and to accomplish real release: an escape from the society. The release that Rosemary sought is possible for Jonas, without using any euphemisms. As we will see in later chapters, Jonas manages to physically leave the community alive, to actually explore Elsewhere. Far from being the only member of the community who cannot be released, he is the only one who can and will be released. At the same time, Jonas has already been released from the hold that the community keeps on all of its citizens, and his Assignment as the Receiver is the very thing that released him. He can see beyond the rules and conventions of the society he lives in, and he can feel things that no one else in the society can feel.
When Jonas alludes to the child Caleb’s death in the river, he is imagining situations that are beyond the community’s control: accidents that the community cannot prevent or even expect. Though Jonas is not consciously thinking of ways to subvert the society, the mention of the river reminds us and the Giver that the community is fragile in many ways and still vulnerable to natural disasters and accidents. The Giver warns Jonas not to go near the river, but even as he says this, Jonas is beginning to consider the river a way out. Since it flows through the community from Elsewhere, the river is a physical symbol of escape from the community, and the untamed natural power that it possesses represents the way a tide of unexpected feelings and sensations could change the community for good.