The Giver Summary

The Giver is a kids book, but still it is a dystopia, a warning about our possible and close future. The book is terrifying not because of blood and violence but of the very society depicted in it. All the aspirations of modern people are reached but in a warped way. There are no pain, hatred and wars anymore. No one is anxious about tomorrow, because the life of every person is controlled from birth to death. Everyone is similar to other people, even colors are replaced with dull and monochrome grey, so there is no inequality. Birth control and rigid supply distribution system guarantee that there are no hunger and poverty also. People are assigned to marriage, to job, have as much kids as they are ordered to, give them away and then receive some others to educate, when they grow old, go to nursing homes from which they are quietly “released”. Everyone is trying to be as neutral and polite as possible, showing as few emotions as possible. The particularly scary part is that such a society, consisted of completely identical people, is shown in the book through the eyes of a child. The main character doesn’t know another world can exist and thinks of his own one as of the only possible and correct.

There is almost nothing personal in the community. Children are expected to behave the same, wear the same clothes and haircut, that indicate their group and age. Even birthdays are common and are loudly announced via megaphones on the streets. For examples on their first birthday the babies are assigned to the families and are named. Nine-year-old kids receive similar bicycles as presents, each one with the name on it, and start to mandatory volunteer (if it still can be called volunteering) to the different jobs. When a child is twelve years old the Committee of Elders assign this child to a profession based on their performance during volunteer work. Everyone sees this as greater good that prevents the society from falling into chaos. The violation of the rules or disobedience to the Committee is punished by “releasing” - the actual death sentence is never mentioned because the book is for kids, but is heavily implied. The citizens believe that “released” people - flawed, old or rebellious - are welcomed in some other communities in the vast Elsewhere surrounding the city.

From the very beginning of the book we see that Jonas - the main character who is prepared for his twelfth birthday and the Ceremony of the Assignment. He lives with his mother (not “Birthmother” but a woman he was assigned to), she is a worker of the Department of Justice. His father is a Nurturer of newborn babies. Jonas also have a sister, she is seven. Every morning they have a breakfast together, discuss the dreams they had tonight and the plans for a day. Everything seems perfect except some little thing. For example, Jonas’ parents never use the word “to love”. Jonas is told it is senseless and is encouraged to ask: “Are you satisfied with me?” or say “I respect you very much” instead.

Jonas is a perfect future citizen, he doesn’t have any preferences or desires, but we see something unusual in him. He has “pale” eyes (there is no definition of color in the society) while mostly people have dark eyes. Also the things seem to “change” when he looks at them. He doesn’t have the word to describe the change, but his colorblindness fails for a moment here and there and Jonas sees the faint flashes of color around. We see the similar traits in Gabriel, a sick child who Jonas’ father took home to care for. If Gabriel doesn’t get better in a year or two he will be “released”.

The Ceremony of Assignment goes unusual for Jonas. He is not Assigned, he is Chosen by the Elders to become a Receiver - a keeper of the collective memory of the society. The Council states that before the people ascended to the state of Sameness they went through the long way of mistakes that need to be remembered. So every generation they chose one person - the Receiver of Memory who will bear the pain of knowledge. This knowledge shall prevent the society from making the same mistakes again.

The rules on his new position are very unusual and unique for the community. The Elders give Jonas the list of them. Now he is allowed to lie (lie is a crime), to ask rude questions (also an unacceptable thing in the society), but is not allowed to discuss his training with anyone except the current Receiver of Memory.

The current Receiver of Memory - an old man who asks Jonas call him The Giver - transmits the memories to Jonas in a mystical, unexplainable way, by touching his bare back with his hand. He takes the boy to his secluded apartment, a room that is also a library, and transmits him the first memory - the experience of a sled ride from the snowy hill. Jonas is overwhelmed with emotions: he never felt neither joy nor cold. Gradually Jonas learns to accept these memories as his own. While he does this and reads the books that open his own emotions to the boy, Jonas starts understanding that the life of the current society, though perfectly safe, is barren, dull and meaningless. He desperately wishes to show the feelings to the people he loves - to his family - but Jonas is also taught the causes of the community giving up feelings. He learns about war, greed, jealousy and other traits that almost led humanity to extinction.

Jonas thinks of the phenomenon of emotions very often and comes to a conclusion that the reactions of people in the community are just trained. His father and mother don’t love him, they just behave as they have to behave with their kid. Everyone pretends to be happy and content but they don’t even know what happiness is. Jonas is still not sure if it was the fair price for ceasing all the wars and eliminating poverty.

Meanwhile Gabriel gets worse. He can’t sleep alone and constantly cries, so Jonas comforts him with the warmest memories he has. He and Gabriel start to form an emotional bond, now Jonas feels that he is responsible for the baby. He even imagines Gabriel to be his real brother due to the same eye color and similar traits. But Gabriel’s physical health still deteriorates, so there is almost no hope he will be kept in the family. Jonas’ father starts talking about releasing him soon.

One day Jonas asks The Giver about the process of “release”. The Giver shows the boy a video of his own father, smiling, making a lethal injection to a newborn but flawed baby. So no one is actually released and sent elsewhere, they are just killed - the community gets rid of sick, old, flawed people. Horrified, Jonas asks The Giver for help and the old man tells him the last secret. If Jonas goes to Elsewhere (where colors, pain and pleasure still exist) all the memories he accumulated as Receiver will be released and distributed among the other citizens of the community. They won’t have choice except dealing with them and changing because of the feelings caused by them.

The Giver learned that ten years ago. A new Receiver was appointed to him - his own daughter. The Giver tried his best to comfort her, but some of the memories she received were so overwhelmingly sad and the girl herself was so sensitive that, despite all the efforts of the Giver, she asked the Committee to be released. After her death the memories that were already transferred to her were also released, but in real way, causing depression among the citizens who were unable to handle sudden feelings.

Jonas gladly agrees to the plan, but they don’t have a chance to prepare properly and fake Jonas’ death. When the boy comes home he hears his parents speaking about releasing Gabriel tomorrow. In despair, Jonas steals his father’s bicycle, takes some supplies and runs away with Gabriel. He rides days and nights to Elsewhere, but Jonas, even with all the memories he has, isn’t prepared for the journey. It is winter outside. Both kids are starving and freezing, Jonas can’t offer nothing except the warmest memories to his brother. Jonas has to avoid the search planes, hiding and changing direction constantly. Soon the dense layer of snow makes the bike useless and Jonas has to walk on foot. 

Almost unconscious from fatigue he climbs up a hill and sees the sled on it. It is the same hill and the same sled he saw in his very first memory - or incredibly similar. The blizzard doesn’t allow to see any further, so for the poor boy it looks like the end of Elsewhere. Jonas rides the sled for real, for the first time in his life and, despite his exhaustion and despair, it still feels awesome. Under the hill he sees a faint twinkling light of a village and hears a Christmas song.

We don’t know if it is a mirage, a dying dream of a freezing child or a real village. We don’t know if Giver’s plan worked also. But taking into consideration that “The Giver” is only the first book in the series, we can be sure that something did happen.