The Giver

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Themes and Colors
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Freedom and Choice Theme Icon
Feeling and Emotion Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Giver, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Coming of Age Theme Icon

The annual December ceremony, when the "birthdays" of all children are celebrated simultaneously, is a ritual full of rites of passage. As children grow older, these rites allow them more responsibility; at eight, for example, they are given pockets and stuffed animals are taken away. At Nine, children are given bicycles. At Twelve, children are assigned jobs and adult status is conferred upon them. After Twelve, age is not counted. Yet these rites of passage are purely external, involving the giving of objects or responsibilities. Rites of passage that involve internal development are stifled. For instance, children do not become adults when they become aware of their own sexuality. Instead, they're given a pill to stifle sexual desires. Adulthood is forced upon them at a predetermined time and is associated with the ability to work instead of with the physical, mental, and emotional changes of puberty or life experience.

The Giver is in many ways Jonas's coming-of-age story. Jonas reaches maturity only when he is given memory, and through memory, experience. In this way, Jonas becomes more mature at Twelve than the "adults" of his community. But The Giver also teaches Jonas the wisdom to recognize his own shortcomings. Jonas truly becomes an adult at the end of the novel, when he learns that true maturity comes through selfless love, when one is willing to sacrifice one's own life for another's.

Coming of Age ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Coming of Age appears in each chapter of The Giver. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Coming of Age Quotes in The Giver

Below you will find the important quotes in The Giver related to the theme of Coming of Age.
Chapter 2 Quotes
After Twelve, age isn't important. Most of us even lose track of how old we are as time passes.
Related Characters: Jonas's Father (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonas is decidedly apprehensive about the Ceremony of Twelves, during which time he will be given the Assignment that determines what job he will work in for the rest of his life. Jonas discusses the Ceremony with his parents, and in this quote, Jonas's Father notes that after age Twelve, there are no more age ceremonies, as Twelve marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. After this time, adults often forget what age they are, suggesting an absence of birthdays within the Community. 

As age is something that differentiates people, and a birthday is a day in which one is singled out, age is all but erased after twelve in this society that values sameness. After this time, growth is not as dramatic as it is during childhood (a time in which it would be difficult to ignore the fact that children are at varying stages of development due to age) and secondary sex characteristics are ignored by Community members thanks to a pill that suppresses sexual arousal. When Community members are assigned their jobs, very little about their lives changes from year to year, beyond being assigned a Mate and children, so it becomes difficult to differentiate the personal passage of time. This quote shows that Sameness seeps not just into the rules and design of Community life, but even into personal thoughts and perception of one's life. Life becomes about being a productive member of the community, not an individual with a unique existence—and not even  a being experiencing time as a marked phenomenon. 

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Chapter 13 Quotes
[Jonas] watched them hack the tusks from a motionless elephant on the ground and then haul them away, spattered with blood. He felt himself overwhelmed with a new perception of the color he knew as red.
Related Characters: Jonas
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

While many of the memories that the Giver bequeaths to Jonas are pleasurable, such as ones of sailing and sledding, many of them bring pain and suffering. During one training session, the Giver gives Jonas the memory of an elephant being killed by poachers for the ivory of its tusks. Though Jonas has thus far associated colors with pleasurable memories, seeing the blood of the elephant gives him the sinking realization that colors can represent just as much pain as they do pleasure. 

In the Community, a total lack of colors and differentiation maintains the peace and ensures that no one is uncomfortable or discontent with their circumstances. But the consequence of such a stable existence is a total lack of strong emotions: despair and passion are things that only the Giver and Jonas can understand through memories of war and of love. Without understanding what true pain is, one cannot under what true happiness is, and vice versa. A total lack of comparison to anything beyond what they currently experience results in a very tepid existence for every member of the Community, from birth to release. While it is true that the rules of the Community reduce senseless suffering (like that which Jonas here witnesses), they also completely deprive people of the joyous emotions that can balance out, or even help overcome, the pain of life. Jonas and the Giver alone understand what they are missing out on in life in the Community, and it is literally their job to bear the burden of humanity's collective memories in order to preserve perfect order in their rigid society. 

They were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.
Related Characters: Jonas
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonas asks the Giver about what the Chief Elder said when she assigned him the role of Receiver: that ten years ago, another Twelve had earned the position, which ended in disaster. The Giver consents to telling him the story of the previous Receiver who requested for release, resulting in all of her memories being free for the Community to access. The fallout was a disaster, and no Receiver had been chosen until Jonas, ten years later. 

Jonas realizes that his life has become much richer and more nuanced since he began to receive memories from the Giver. His ability to see colors makes life more exciting and vibrant, and his new understanding of pain and joy make him appreciate and understand what the people in his life, such as Asher, Fiona, and his parents mean to him. However, the story of the panic that ensued when the memories were released into the Community proves that the sudden influx of such powerful feelings and ideas was too much for citizens of the Community to handle, due to their previously sterile existence. Jonas badly wants to share these emotions and memories with the people he comes to realize that he "loves," an emotion he has never been taught to express before, but realizes that he has no power to share these feelings with Community members. They are completely satisfied with their current existences, he now understands, because they have no comprehension of what any other life could ever look or feel like. 

He wondered what lay in the far distance where he had never gone. The land didn't end beyond those nearby community. Were there hills Elsewhere? Were there vast wind-torn areas like the place he had seen in memory, the place where the elephants died?
Related Characters: Jonas
Related Symbols: The Snow-covered Hill
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

After speaking with the Giver about what happened when the previous Receiver was released, Jonas begins to wonder about what else he has been deprived of as a member of the Community. Though he has never wondered about what existed beyond or before the Community prior to his training, he now starts to long to experience and know more about the world. At this time in the novel, Jonas does not yet know that "Elsewhere" is a euphemism for death, one that Community members use to refer to the place where people go after release. Jonas and his friends assume it is another Community, one different than their own. Jonas begins to long to experience for himself the feelings--both pleasure and pain--that he sees in the Giver's memories, because they are so much more vibrant and rich than anything he has experienced inside the Community. 

It is for this very reason that the Community has a Receiver of Memories. If everyone had access to what life was like before the Sameness, when humans still had choice and passion and love, but also suffering and fear, then it would be much more difficult to impose utter structure and control over everyone inside. Jonas's Assignment is therefore a crucial part of the Elders control of society, and he can wield dangerous power to the sanctity of its rules if his memories are exposed to the public. 

Chapter 16 Quotes
The next morning, for the first time, Jonas did not take his pill. Something within him, something that had grown there through the memories, told him to throw the pill away.
Related Characters: Jonas
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

After experiencing the memory of love and giving Gabe part of the feeling of it, Jonas abruptly decides to stop taking his pill. Though he does not quite understand what a "Stirring" is, he remembers how pleasurable it used to be to think and dream of Fiona. Since taking the pill, he no longer has those dreams or feels quite the same about her. Now that he is experiencing so many ideas and feelings through the memories from the Giver, however, Jonas wonders if these experiences may be even more vibrant--like the thoughts of Fiona were--if he stops taking the pills that his Mother gave him as soon as he reported his dreams. After he does so, he immediately begins to see colors everywhere, not just flashes, suggesting that the pill is not just connected to sexual arousal, but to perception of other senses that come with the onset of sexual development. 

By suppressing sexual arousal, the pill allows the Elders to control relationships, mating, and the overall number of members in the population. As there are many feelings associated with such sexual development, it also serves to squelch a number of other feelings that are associated with such desires, including dreams and personal connection. The pill and the feelings it is revealed to suppress show that the "dream-telling" ritual of each morning was likely engineered to reveal when adolescents were beginning to sexually mature, and therefore reveal themselves as "needing" the pill. Though Jonas experiences much more after stopping taking the pill, it makes him feel even more alone in his sensations and desires in a Community of sterile and unfeeling individuals. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
He saw the familiar wide river beside the path differently. He saw all of the light and color and history it contained and carried in its slow-moving water; and he knew that there was an Elsewhere from which it came, and an Elsewhere to which it was going.
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jonas rides his bike along the river one day, as he has his whole life, he suddenly sees it differently as a result of the memories: it suddenly has a color to it, and has a history that differentiates it from the rest of the dull and uniform Community. In the Community, where everything is identical to the largest extent it can be as a result of the "Sameness," there is little to no understanding or knowledge of history. If members of the Community were to know of a time before the Sameness, they would no longer be satisfied and complacent with their dull, utilitarian existence devoid of diversity and feeling. However, the past cannot simply go away--thus the Giver and the Receiver are burdened with all the emotions and memories of the entire world, so that the Community can live fully in the present and know only the history of very recent events. 

The Elders also keep the idea of "Elsewhere" very nebulous in the public mind, although Jonas soon finds out that the "release" that leads to this "Elsewhere" is not a movement to another Community, but rather systematic government-imposed death upon those deemed unfit for society. Optimistically, Jonas hopes this "Elsewhere," where the flowing river might lead, could be the places where his memories--good and bad--might take place, and where life could have different flavors and feelings. More than anything, Jonas's training with the Giver inspires him to question his own life in a way neither he nor anyone he knows ever has before. Of course, the rules of "rudeness" in the Community are designed to suppress this kind of curiosity, but as Jonas's Assignment packet stipulates, the rules of rudeness don't apply to him anymore.

Chapter 19 Quotes
He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself.
Related Characters: Jonas (speaker), Jonas's Father
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, Jonas asks the Giver about the true nature of release, and where people go when they are sent "Elsewhere." The Giver shows Jonas a video of the release that his Father performed earlier in the day on the smaller of a set of twins born (due to the fact that the Rules state there can only be 50 children in any age group in a given year, and that only one of each set of twins is allowed to remain in the Community). Jonas's father injects the newborn with a mysterious substance, and it almost instantly dies. Jonas is horrified to realize that to be released is to be killed. 

In watching this video, Jonas finally comes to understand that the "Elsewhere" that people go to after release is really death. His father, he now knows, killed a perfectly healthy newborn simply because of the Community's arbitrary rules about its number of citizens. In killing the child, his father did not seem upset or guilty about his actions, showing that he neither understood exactly what he was doing nor was it the first time he had performed such a senseless release. Though many of the Community's rules seem to have good intentions, the systematic killing of people deemed unfit for society marks it as a mostly dystopian, rather than idyllic, way of life. After seeing this video, Jonas understands further what is at stake with his acquisition of memories and rare understanding of love, pain, and what it means to be a human. 

Chapter 20 Quotes
"Having you here with me over the past year has made me realize that things must change. For years I've felt that they should, but it seemed so hopeless. Now for the first time I think there might be a way," The Giver said slowly.
Related Characters: The Giver (speaker), Jonas
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing the video of his father release the newchild, Jonas is inconsolable. He refuses to leave the Giver's room, and demands that he and the Giver do something to force the Community to stop living in ignorance. In this quote, the Giver slowly comes to the conclusion that perhaps there is a way to impose the memories onto the Community, and to help them cope with the onslaught of feelings so that they can finally understand what it means to know of strong emotions. 

Like Jonas, the Giver felt incredibly isolated by his role as Receiver, one that left him completely alone, save for the few weeks that he trained Rosemary. Having known love for her, whom he later reveals to be his daughter, her loss was particularly difficult for him to bear, since no one else in the Community understands what it means to love, let alone lose someone that you love. The only thing giving him the will to continue bearing these memories alone was the belief that by feeling these things, he was infinitely wiser and more human than those who live and die by the Sameness. Yet now, with two minds sharing the memories, the Giver and the Receiver are inspired to find a way to force the Community to bear these memories too, and thus finally feel the joys and pain that the Giver and Receiver currently bear alone. 

Chapter 22 Quotes
If he had stayed in the community, he would not be. It was as simple as that. Once he had yearned for choice. Then, when he has had a choice, he had made the wrong one: the choice to leave. And now he was starving.
Related Characters: Jonas
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

As they travel farther away from the Community, Gabe and Jonas experience hunger and the cold for the first time in their lives. Though the Community is emotionally repressive, it did provide them with all bodily needs and ensured they were never uncomfortable. In this quote, Jonas desperately wonders if he made the right decision to leave the Community. However, after understanding everything he was missing from his life through the memories, he knows that a life in the Community, even one that was warm and well-fed, would not be a life at all. As he states here, "he would not be." He would not be a human, though he would technically be alive and comfortable. Similarly, Gabe's fussiness meant that he was scheduled to be released by Jonas's Father—even though the family had come to care for him as their own child—simply because he didn't fit into the calm mold of the Community members. This experience has been Jonas's first foray into real choice, and it makes him understand why perhaps all choice was eliminated from society after the Sameness. Still, it can be argued that he really didn't have a choice, if he wanted a life full of feeling and for Gabe to survive. 

He wept because he was afraid now that he could not save Gabriel. He no longer cared about himself.
Related Characters: Jonas, Gabriel
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gabe and Jonas travel on, their conditions worsen, and they do not reach another Community. Both boys become very weak, and in this quote, Jonas weeps not for his own life, but for Gabe's. Though this moment can be interpreted as very tragic, since the boys have no concept of how to fend for themselves in the wild, but Jonas knows they will be killed if they turn back, it can also be interpreted as a triumph: by caring for Gabe's life more than his own, Jonas is expressing true love for another human being, something he would not have likely felt had he stayed in the Community. He risked his own life to save Gabe's--had the baby not been there, Jonas might have had more food and energy to save himself, but the love he came to know and develop meant that he knew he had no choice to leave the child in the Community to be released. Thus, though Jonas knows there is little chance either of them will survive, he is more human than ever before, thanks to his escape from the Community.