Jonas begins the novel as a bright, inquisitive boy who is curious about what he observes, but who does not really question the overall structure or rules of the society he lives in. He enjoys his friends, is content within his family unit, and assumes that his community is a good one. Once he begins training with The Giver, however, Jonas becomes aware of everything the community has sacrificed in order to avoid pain and achieve a tranquil, efficient way of life. They experience no real emotions, cannot see colors, have no individuality, and do not have the freedom to make their own choices. Most importantly, they have relinquished all memories to the care of The Receiver, because memories can cause suffering. Jonas becomes increasingly frustrated with his community and eventually angry at their willingness to settle for a bland, meaningless existence. The real turning point, though, comes when Jonas realizes that "release," which he thought to be just a matter of leaving the community, is a euphemism for death. Those who break the rules, certain babies, and the Old are released, or euthanized, for reasons as meaningless as having a lower birthweight or breaking a minor rule. Horrified, Jonas becomes determined to escape the community, release the memories he has been storing, and force society to regain its humanity and individuality. He runs away with Gabriel, a newchild his father has been caring for, and searches for the "Elsewhere" where people care for each other and love still exists.
The Giver is the most important of the Elders, not only for Jonas's community but for all the communities nearby. He (or she) is responsible for storing the collective memories and history of the world, going back generations, and for advising the Council of Elders when important decisions have to be made that are beyond their experience. Because he is the sole keeper of memories, he also must shoulder the tremendous pain those memories bring. This burden has made The Giver somewhat bitter and resentful of his role. The bitterness and grief grew to an almost unbearable level after his daughter Rosemary killed herself. Chosen at one point to be the next Receiver of Memory, she was unable to deal with the pain that the memories brought and the horrors committed by humanity. Through Jonas, though, the old man finally sees a way to force the community to take back its memories and regain both its freedom and its individuality. He is transformed from a very wise but exhausted and helpless old man to a rebel who will expend the last of his strength and energy to saving a world that has lost its humanity.
Unlike most main characters, Father does not change over the course of the novel. However, the truth of his personality is gradually revealed to readers as Jonas begins to better understand his community. At the beginning of the story, Father is portrayed as a kind man and a source of affection and wise advice for Jonas and his sister. Father also appears to be exceptionally tenderhearted, having gravitated toward the job of Nurturer when he was still a youngster himself. Father's concern for Gabriel and his determination to help the little boy thrive seem to be yet another example of his compassion and his love for the newchildren. Toward the end of the novel, though, Jonas realizes that Father has no real capacity for love. He is able to euthanize the babies in his care without a trace of sadness, even sending a little body down a trash chute with a cheerful "Bye-bye." He does not even have a problem deciding to release Gabriel after the child has lived with the family for a year. He has formed absolutely no emotional connection to the little boy, nor, one suspects, to Jonas or his sister, Lily. His complete lack of emotion, and his ability to kill the innocent, show how the strict control by the government can turn even an essentially gentle man into someone who can behave as if utterly lacking in humanity.