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The Giver | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

Jonas reports to the Annex for his first day of training as the Receiver of Memory. An attendant unlocks a door (which causes Jonas to think about how doors in the community are never locked) and ushers him into another room. Jonas observes that the room is similar to the dwelling of his family unit, but that the furniture is a bit more plush and ornate. More amazingly, the loudspeaker in this room has an "off" switch, and the walls are lined with more books than Jonas realized existed. He wonders how many "rules and descriptions of buildings" they contain.

Suddenly Jonas sees the Elder with the pale eyes whom he had noticed at the ceremony. The Elder quickly puts Jonas at ease, joking that he knows he looks old enough "to be scheduled for release," but that he isn't as old as he looks. He admits, though, that he has less energy than he did when he trained the previous Receiver, 10 years ago, and that they have much hard work to do.

The Elder admits to being imperfect, and points to his failure with the previous Receiver as an example. He tells Jonas he may make mistakes and be unclear, because he has not been able to discuss his role with anyone as he waited for the new Receiver to be named. He encourages Jonas to ask questions, and although Jonas can think of thousands, he's unable to articulate one. The Elder takes over, explaining that his job is to transmit to Jonas "the memories of the world"—memories from before either of them lived, and for generations before that.

Jonas is astonished to hear this because, as he says, "I always thought there was only us. I thought there was only now." The Elder tries to explain the importance of memories, which must be experienced again and again because "it is how wisdom comes. And how we shape our future." He tells Jonas that the weight of all those accumulated memories has become a terrible burden, comparing them to snow building up on the runners of a sled moving downhill. Jonas has no knowledge of snow or sleds, so the Elder decides that these memories would be as good as any with which to begin Jonas's training.

Analysis

The most surprising revelations in this chapter are the things that Jonas does not know and has not experienced. He has never seen a locked door, nor a loudspeaker with an off switch. This indicates he has never worried about safety, but that he also never had a moment's privacy. He has never seen a collection of books and also assumes that all books contain rules or descriptions of buildings. Fiction, drama, and poetry are apparently unknown to him, and this may make readers wonder what is taught in schools other than the community rules or the latest developments in technology. When the Elder begins sharing his memory of snow and sleds, Jonas is bewildered, having no idea what those things are. Perhaps most surprising, though, is Jonas's comment that, until that moment, he had thought "there was only us" and "only now." He has no sense of the past or of history and no understanding of anything outside the nearby cluster of communities.

Through this brief conversation, readers realize how critical the knowledge of the Elder is. He alone appears to be the repository of world's memories and past. Yet as he himself says, revisiting memories leads to wisdom and shapes the future. His musings raise the larger question of why those memories have been locked away in one individual, and how society has shaped its future without them.

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