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The Giver | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Brief Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Lois Lowry's novel The Giver.

The Giver | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



Young Jonas lives in what seems to be a perfect community. There is no crime, hunger, poverty, prejudice, or violence. Every citizen knows exactly how to behave and what his or her responsibilities are, thanks to a comprehensive Book of Rules that every family dwelling has a copy of—in addition to a dictionary, to encourage the accurate expression of ideas. Family units are identical, with a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. Each family member is carefully chosen and matched to others by a Council of Elders and the appropriate committees. The Elders also decide what job each individual is suited for. The jobs are assigned at the December Ceremony, where each age group of approximately 50 children receives its new responsibilities for that year. The Elders apparently do a good job, because everyone in the community appears to be content, and the community is peaceful and without incident.

Jonas lives in one of the community dwellings with his father, a Nurturer who cares for babies, or newchildren, and his mother, who has an important job at the Department of Justice. The last official family member is his younger sister, Lily, who is about to become an Eight. At the moment, though, there is an additional temporary member of the family unit. Father has brought home a newchild named Gabriel for extra nurturing, concerned that if the child does not develop more quickly he will be slated for "release." Release is something that happens to babies, the Old, and sometimes people who have broken the society's rules in some way. Jonas is not sure what release is, but he knows that it involves leaving the community and going Elsewhere.

Receiver of Memory

As the story begins, Jonas is both excited and apprehensive because he is about to become a Twelve. At the next December Ceremony, just a month away, he will learn what his own job will be in the adult community. When the important day arrives, Jonas is shocked when his name is the only one skipped during the assignments. But the Chief Elder then brings him up on stage and announces that Jonas has been carefully selected by the Council of Elders to be the next Receiver of Memory, the most honored role in the community. His assignment is particularly important because 10 years before, the assignment for the new Receiver was a failure, although no one seems to know why. Jonas begins his training the next day.

The present Receiver is an old man who has been in that role for most of his life. His job is to be the keeper of the community's collective memory, not only from recent years but "back and back" for generations. The community gave up its memories when it began its quest for Sameness, a plan that would enable them to achieve a more efficient, safe, and tranquil way of life. Sameness involved creating a uniform geography to make transportation easier, developing climate control to eliminate the seasons, and discouraging individuality, including skin color, and colors of all kinds. Sameness also involved eliminating choice, emotions, and memories, all of which could potentially cause unhappiness and pain. However, the community's leaders realized that memory and a sense of history was necessary if they were to make informed decisions. The role of Receiver was created so that someone would have the knowledge needed to advise the council of Elders, while sparing them the suffering that memories can bring.

Because Jonas is now the Receiver of Memory, the old man changes his own title to The Giver. The Giver immediately begins sharing his memories with Jonas, beginning with an exciting ride on a sled in winter. Jonas is thrilled by the experience, and The Giver begins passing on more and more memories. At first, they are pleasant ones, like the sled ride. Jonas learns about animals and colors, holidays with twinkling lights, music, candles, and fire. None of these exist in his community any longer. Secretly, Jonas passes on some of those memories to the baby Gabriel, helping soothe the little one when he cries in the night. Over time, he even develops a deep love for the little boy, experiencing an emotion unknown in his community.


The Giver then begins passing on more painful memories, including those of death and war, hunger and poverty. Jonas grows increasingly upset with his community, which has walled itself off from both those memories and the happy ones, condemning themselves to a bland, almost meaningless existence. But then Jonas learns something that raises his discomfort to the level of horror. He finds out that "release," a term that always seemed so harmless, is actually death. It covers the execution of those who have broken the rules, euthanasia of the Old, and the outright murder of newchildren who don't meet the criteria set by the community. He is horrified to learn that his own father is often the one to insert a needle full of chemicals into a baby's vein, ending its life even as he soothes it with his singsongy voice.

Jonas also learns that the "failure" of the previous Receiver was caused by her great grief at what she had learned. Once a happy, bright, and inquisitive girl, she could not accept what the community had become, or the pain of the memories, and requested release. Jonas also learns that the girl, Rosemary, had been The Giver's daughter. When she died, the memories she had been storing were released into the community, which experienced suffering for the first time. It took a long time for the people to assimilate those memories, and the Elders put safeguards in place to prevent anything similar from happening again. Jonas, for example, would not be allowed to request release for himself, as Rosemary had done.

Both The Giver, who has been dealing for years with his grief over Rosemary and struggling under the burden of the memories, and Jonas agree that the community needs to change. The Giver comes up with a plan that will allow Jonas to escape the community. The boy's memories will be released, and there will be no time to train a new Receiver to take them on, or to absorb all the remaining ones before The Giver himself dies. The Giver, though, will help the community learn how to handle both the memories and the challenges and joys that accompany them, paving the way back to normalcy.


The two never have a chance to carry out their plan. Jonas learns that same night that Gabriel has been scheduled for release the next morning. The baby cries when Jonas is not around to comfort him, and this is not acceptable behavior in the community. To prevent Gabriel from being killed, Jonas steals his father's bicycle and some food, bundles up Gabriel, and runs away from the community in the dead of night. For days, he avoids search planes by sleeping during the day and traveling at night, and he tricks their heat-seeking technology by sharing memories of cold with Gabriel.

Eventually, the planes stop searching, but Jonas and Gabriel are now far away from any sort of civilization or source of food. Snow begins falling, and the two grow weak, cold, and hungry. Jonas begins to wonder if, by making the choice to leave, he has condemned both himself and Gabriel to starve and perhaps die. He realizes, though, that had he remained he would have starved in a different way. Gabriel would have been killed. And because he cares for Gabriel's safety and comfort even more than he cares for his own—the truest expression of love—he realizes that he could not have made any other decision.

Jonas begins trudging up a steep, snow-covered hill. For an unstated reason, he becomes convinced that he is nearing his destination. At the top of the hill, he finds scenes uncannily like those in his memories. There is a sled perched on the top of the hill as though left for him. Down below, he sees a town decorated with twinkling holiday lights, and he hears distant singing. He knows that within the homes of the town are families who still make memories and know what love is. Filled with joy, he climbs onto the sled with Gabriel and slides down the hill to where he hopes the people are waiting for him with love and warmth.

The Giver Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Jonas feels apprehension about the Ceremony of Twelve.

Rising Action

2 The newchild Gabriel is brought home for extra nurturing.

3 Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver of Memory.

4 Jonas begins training with The Giver and experiences color.

5 Jonas learns about love, death, war, suffering, and joy.

6 Jonas becomes impatient with Sameness and lack of choice.


7 Jonas learns that release is death and Gabriel will be killed.

Falling Action

8 Jonas escapes from the community with Gabriel.


9 Jonas and Gabriel discover Elsewhere.

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