The Giver | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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The Giver | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 1 readers meet Jonas, a bright, good-natured Eleven who is observant, thoughtful, and happy. He has two loving parents, a bubbly sister, and a comfortable dwelling. The community he lives in appears to be peaceful and well run. Bicycles are the primary method of transportation, people are unfailingly polite, and a clear set of rules and regulations keeps everything running smoothly.

As the story opens, it is nearly December and Jonas is beginning to feel frightened. He recalls another time when he felt fearful, just a year before, when a pilot accidentally flew over the community. This is something that never happens and is strictly against the rules. A voice over the loudspeaker had ordered all the citizens to take shelter, and although the flyover was eventually ruled accidental, the voice confirmed that the Pilot-in-Training would be "released" for his error.

Jonas's concerns this time are more personal, and he realizes the correct word for how he is feeling is actually "apprehensive." In just one month, he will become a Twelve and participate in a special ceremony for all children entering that age group. He plans to talk about his uneasiness with his parents at dinner. This is when his family performs the "sharing of feelings," a nightly ritual where they help each other process the events of the day. The sharing session is just one of the many standard and nonspontaneous conventions common to the entire community.

At that night's sharing session, Father, who was assigned the job of Nurturer when he was young, begins by mentioning a newchild who is not thriving as he should and may soon be released. Father asks permission to bring the infant home in the evenings to provide it with extra nurturing, a suggestion to which the family agrees. Jonas's sister, Lily, a Seven, describes her anger at a boy who was visiting from another community and did not follow the rules of the playground. Her parents help her to understand that perhaps the boy simply didn't understand the rules and may have been feeling unsure of himself.

Mother, who has an important job at the Department of Justice, is the next one to share. She expresses concern that a second-time offender may not be able to change his ways, in which case he would be released from the community, just as the pilot was released the year before. Jonas thinks about how a release, when not connected to a newchild or an old person, is considered an unspeakable disgrace or an overwhelming statement of failure. Finally, it is Jonas's turn, and he shares his concerns about the Ceremony of Twelve. His parents gently ask Lily to get ready for bed so that they can have a private talk with her brother.

Analysis

The story of The Giver is told from Jonas's point of view, and events are initially described with all the innocence and enthusiasm one would expect from an 11-year-old boy. At the beginning of the novel, Jonas knows only that he has a caring family and lives in a safe, well-ordered community where feelings are respected, people know what is expected of them, and the accurate use of language is very important. Lois Lowry, however, infuses the chapter with a series of unsettling details that suggest Jonas's community may not be the idyllic place the boy believes it to be.

Life in the community is extremely regimented, and the rules and rituals citizens follow are mandatory. Orders broadcasted over the loudspeakers, in every dwelling and in the public areas, are obeyed instantly. Even the sharing of feelings the family participates in is required, and the responses the parents give to help the children process what they've experienced sound as though they are drawn from a handbook. No one in the community seems to find any of this unusual or problematic in any way, but readers may feel slightly uncomfortable at the conformity everywhere present.

Language is used in unusual ways as well. People are called "citizens" and receive orders and directives from some higher authority. Families are called "family units" and reside in dwellings, not houses or homes. Father calls the baby he is concerned about a "newchild," and refers to it as a "sweet little male" rather than as a boy. Children are identified by their age (Jonas is an Eleven, for example) and treated as members of a larger group. Other unusual uses of common words hint at odd aspects of the community. For example, Jonas and Lily don't know what the word "animal" refers to, which suggests that none exist where they live. There is also the mysterious use of the word "release," referring to something that happens not only to older people and some babies but also to people who break the rules and have to leave the community.

Perhaps most disturbing are the descriptions of how jobs are assigned and how families are created. Both seem to be determined by an unknown person or group, based on how closely an individual does or doesn't meet certain criteria. For example, people who work at night lack the "interest or skills or insight" for the more important daytime positions. As for families, individuals are "given" spouses if they are thought to have the "essential capacity to connect to others," and the rules dictate that each family unit is limited to one girl and one boy.

It is not yet clear who created the rules, evaluates the citizens of this society, or makes these decisions, although there is a reference in the chapter to a committee that decides which individuals will be released from the community. All of these many details taken together create a sense of discomfort and foreboding in the reader, foreshadowing developments that may lead to conflicts for young Jonas.

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