Choice. A monosyllabic word which encompasses no less than the meaning of life itself that carries the weight of the world’s hopes and dreams in six letters.
Around the world, millions suffer every day, oppressed under tyrannic control of authority, powerless in their ability to have a say in their lives. Lowry’s development of this very fact in The Giver emphasizes the magnitude of choices, one’s entitlement to them with all their concomitant consequences.
Lowry begins by presenting her utopia, a world based on progressive beliefs of equal distribution and opportunity among all members of the community. Each person has their profession, parents, siblings, time of death, every aspect of their lives, decided for them. They are devoid of freedom. Deprived of choices. To ensure no questions arise from within the community pertaining to their absence of freedom in order to guarantee their obliviousness to their conditions, a Giver is appointed to hold memories of pain, hunger, misery, love, color, music — anything deemed harmful or insignificant to the needs of society. Jonas, oblivious to his enslavement, waits in anticipation for the Ceremony of Twelve — a ritual during which he will receive his designated profession that will determine the course of his life.
Lowry first broaches the influence of one’s choices during a conversation between Jonas and his friend Asher who discuss Elsewhere — a nebulous place beyond the community. “If you don’t fit in, you can apply for Elsewhere and be released. Once, about 10 years ago, someone applied and was gone the next day.” The mere concept of feeling isolated or not blending with the community is inconceivable to Jonas. He dismisses the notion for “the community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made…”
Though Jonas is portrayed as blindly acknowledging his absence of freedom, this marks the first moment he even considers the possibility of resenting the decisions made for him which Lowry utilizes as an opportunity to subtly allude to the possibility of change in the community — one where a person creates their own destiny.
The Ceremony of Twelve arrives and Jonas is chosen to be the next Giver. All at once, Jonas is able to do things never deemed acceptable in society or even possible at all — asking questions and even an action as abhorrent as lying.
As his lessons with the Giver progress, he receives the memories the Community chose to discard when assembling their perfect society, and he begins to question the validity of these decisions. After receiving memories of winter — snow, sledding, hills, etc. — he inquires of the Giver the reasoning behind the decisions to abandon such concepts; the Giver replies that they were simply impractical. So, Sameness was established. Jonas accepts this but begins to yearn for such material objects.
One day, after receiving memories of color, Jonas again questions the motivations behind relinquishing color, stating in a fierce outburst:
“We shouldn’t have!” He later goes on to declare, “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one…instead of Sameness.”
Though realizing the danger of having that privilege — making the wrong choices — Jonas leaves the Giver that day with a sense of uneasiness and frustration about his conclusion.
Lowry wields Jonas’ lessons with the Giver as a sort of haven for Jonas — a place where he begins to question his life and the society in which he lives. His discussions with the Giver allow her to further develop the motif of choice.
As Jonas grows more knowledgeable regarding life before his time, he begins to see beyond the restrictions and rules of the community and envision a world in which he is in charge of his own life. He experiences the consequences of the community’s decisions in all that they have lost — music, color, seasons — and realizes the utmost importance in the choices one makes, the immense burden they entail along with the promise of freedom.
After experiencing a memory of war, Jonas’ fury escalates at a staggering rate, and the tide begins to turn from blind acceptance to indignation and a fierce hunger for freedom. He does not want to return to the Giver.
The night Jonas learns of love marks the night he develops a conviction to engender change in the community, declaring, “There must be some way for things to be different.”
He creeps to the bedside of the newchild Gabriel, who Jonas’ family took in to nurture and care for in the hopes that he would not be deemed unfit for society and released, and Jonas recounts to him a world with color, family and memories. A world with love. A world with choice.
The next morning, Jonas refuses to take his community-issued pill and defies the rules of society for the first time. His lessons with the Giver transition to meetings of rebellion, time used to fabricate societies of freedom unlike his own.
After learning of death, Jonas is torn apart by the realization of the blatant lies he has been subjected to throughout his life. There is no doubt, no hesitation. He must leave, for “if he stayed, his life was no longer worth living.”
He and the Giver plan his escape, determining that should he leave, his memories will be released into the community. In order to subdue the citizens and quench the turmoil evoked by the memories, the Giver stays behind. Jonas and Gabe break free of the community to face the hardships of the real world.
As Jonas struggles in his search for signs of life and a community to help him in his fight for freedom, his resolution wavers, but he is nevertheless convinced of one fact:
“If he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways. He would have lived a life hungry for feelings, for color, for love…for Gabriel there would have been no life at all. So there had not really been a choice.”
Jonas’ journey from an unsuspecting member of the community to a rebel struggling to offer the world the freedom he was deprived of provides an insightful portrayal of the magnitude of choice in the lives of humankind.
As the repercussions of the community’s decisions come to light — the absence of love most importantly — Jonas realizes that a life in which he has no say is no life at all. Jonas is presented with a choice to remain enslaved, yet protected by the authority of the community, or to break free into the unknown and not only live a life of his own, but to enlighten the members of the community to their condition; to ultimately present to them the same opportunity. He chooses the latter, for he realizes that choosing right or wrong does not comprise the true meaning of one’s life.
Lowry’s utopia and characters are used to develop a central theme that continues to hold immense value in today’s society. It is the ability to choose in the first place that holds the most significance. That is what truly matters.