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The Giver | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Chapter 13

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 13 of Lois Lowry's novel The Giver.

The Giver | Chapter 13 | Summary



Weeks go by, and Jonas works hard to assimilate new memories. Some introduce difficult truths and harsh realities. One shows him the slaughter of an elephant by a poacher and the agony of the animal's friend. He realizes that elephants were once real creatures, not imaginary comfort objects. He also learns about guns and cruelty and realizes that red is also the color of spilled blood. He feels grief and wakes from that memory in anguish.

Jonas also begins experiencing other unfamiliar emotions such as anger and frustration. He rebels against the unfairness of the lack of color in the world. When asked by The Giver to explain what he means by "unfair," he says that when everything is the same, he and others have no real opportunity to make choices. The Giver seems to understand, saying, "It's the choosing that's important, isn't it?" But he also leads Jonas to see that with choice comes risk. People might make the wrong decisions about a job or a spouse, for example. Jonas decides that society has to protect people from making the wrong choices, and that the present system is much "safer." But even as Jonas articulates this, he is left with a feeling of frustration.

On another day, Jonas asks The Giver if he has ever had a spouse, and learns that Receivers are indeed allowed to apply for a spouse and even request children. The Giver cautions him that the relationship is a difficult one, though, because The Receiver is not allowed to share dreams, memories, or even the contents of the books on the shelves with the rest of the family unit. He says his former spouse now lives with the other Childless Adults, a place where Jonas's parents will someday go.

Finally, The Giver explains his role with the Elders, who call upon him when a decision requires knowledge of experiences that none of them have ever had. He says he wishes they would make use of his knowledge more often, but that the Elders don't really want anything to change. This is because life in the community is "so orderly, so predictable—so painless. It's what they've chosen." When Jonas asks why a Receiver is even needed then, The Giver explains that memories are essential if people are to avoid repeating past mistakes. But he also comments that people are afraid of memories. When the last new Receiver failed, her memories were released into the community and caused tremendous suffering. People prefer not to have to risk feeling that pain.

A bitterness then comes over The Giver. He says that the scientists and instructors who explain how the brain works "know nothing," and that despite the pain they bring, it is memories that define life. Without memories, he says, "it's all meaningless." The burden of retaining the memories, though, was given only to him, and to Receivers who preceded and will follow him—like Jonas. Jonas nervously asks The Giver about the suffering he has described, saying that perhaps he could take some of it away from the old man. The Giver reluctantly decides it is time to stop shielding Jonas, and prepares to share another memory.


As Jonas continues his training, his own character and personality become increasingly complex. He experiences strong emotions, asks questions that never occurred to him before, and quietly begins to rebel against the values he has been taught to accept without question. He also begins to wonder about Elsewhere and life beyond the communities. Within weeks, the careful training of his first 12 years begins to crumble under the weight of knowledge.

As readers accompany Jonas on his journey of enlightenment, they begin to develop a deeper understanding of why the community is the way it is. According to The Giver, people once made a conscious decision to sacrifice memories and choice (with their potential for pain and regret) for a life that is predictable, orderly, and peaceful. In fact, after generations of this conditioning, people now seem to be unable or unwilling to access memories. When Jonas actively tries to share some of his new visions of color with Asher, or show the wonder of a real elephant to his sister, he is unsuccessful.

Even if the citizens could receive memories, though, there are few available to access. The reading of books is forbidden, so there are no memories of the past. Families are assembled and dismantled within a span of years, meaning that there is no family history. Even daily life is so structured that the "one-generation" memories people do have are probably indistinguishable from the rest. All that remains are facts and rules.

When The Giver says that without memories and emotions "it's all meaningless," he is telling Jonas that the choices their society made removed something essential from life. Scientists and instructors have their facts, but "know nothing" about what they truly mean. The Giver wishes that the Elders would allow him to advise them more often and help implement some changes. It is clear that he believes that knowledge, even with the accompanying pain, is worth the sacrifice. Jonas may be beginning to believe this, too, when he asks to be taught about suffering.

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