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The Giver | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

Jonas suddenly becomes certain that his destination, Elsewhere, is not far ahead. But he has no confidence that he will reach it because night is falling, the air is growing colder, and snow has begun to swirl around him. Jonas gets off the bicycle and tries to warm Gabriel against his own chest. Even as they begin to freeze, he tells Gabriel the word for "snowflake" and says that "they're very beautiful."

Leaving the bicycle behind in the drifting snow, he thinks for a moment how nice it would be to just lie down beside it and go to sleep. But he forces himself onward, wondering if he has any memories of warmth or strength left to give to Gabriel. He feels a flicker within him, and although he wants for a moment to keep it to himself, he feels an intense yearning to "share the warmth with the one person left for him to love." The memory lasts only for a moment, but it brings back Jonas's will to survive. He begins to climb a steep hill, searching for the last remaining shreds of memory to keep himself and Gabriel warm.

As he nears the summit of the hill, he suddenly feels happy. He recalls with joy his own memories of his family and friends and The Giver. Then, at the top of the hill, he becomes certain that the climb "would not be uphill anymore." He remembers the place where he stands as a memory of his own. Using his last bits of strength and "a special knowledge that was deep inside him," Jonas finds a sled that appears to be waiting for them at the top of the hill. He gets on, hugs Gabriel close, and takes hold of the rope.

The sled begins to race downhill, and Jonas fights to stay conscious and keep Gabriel safe. They head in a straight line that leads "to the final destination, the place that he had always felt was waiting." He knows it is the Elsewhere that contains their future and their past. Finally, ahead of him, he sees colored lights in the windows of rooms and knows that they shine on trees where families create and share memories, and where they celebrate love. He feels they are waiting for him and for Gabriel; and for the first time, he hears music. Behind him and from far away, in the community he left behind, he thinks they may hear music, too.

Analysis

The last chapter in The Giver has created controversy ever since the novel was first published. Its content is ambiguous, meaning it can be interpreted in more than one way. On the most literal level, Jonas and Gabriel finally do find Elsewhere, a place where people have retained the old ways of life and where love and memories still exist. Because Jonas has been traveling for days or weeks, the month would be December. Twinkling holiday lights and the sound of carols would make perfect sense and provide a joyous end to the story. Some editions of the book include a recent Afterword by Lois Lowry in which she states that she could not have conceived writing this book without some measure of hope at the end. Her intent to conclude with hope may indicate the validity of this interpretation.

The second interpretation turns the end of the journey into a metaphor, a symbol of what might really be happening. Hungry, exhausted, and half frozen, Jonas and Gabriel may be close to death, the ultimate Elsewhere. Jonas's memories of his family, and the beautiful sights of the village, would be the equivalent of a person's life flashing before his eyes just prior to dying. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the image of Christmas and the joy of racing downhill on a sled are the happiest of the memories passed on to Jonas by The Giver. The memory became a recurring dream where he was on the sled, trying to reach something good and welcoming that waited in the distance. Reaching that destination would be a comforting last thought at the end of Jonas's life.

In an odd way, though, either interpretation can be considered positive. In both cases, Jonas and Gabriel have escaped lives of Sameness and predictability and found utter joy. And in both interpretations, Jonas's memories have been released to the community, and The Giver can begin the job of helping people regain their individuality and freedom, and their ability to love.

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