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.
Freedom and Choice Theme Icon

In Jonas's community, no one makes choices. All choices about the community were made in the distant past when Sameness was created, and any additional changes involve painfully slow bureaucratic procedures. Without choice, no one suffers the consequences that come from making wrong choices, but they also don't experience the joys that come with making right ones. By sacrificing the freedom of choice, community members are guaranteed a stable, painless life. Consequently, the people lead pleasant—but robotic—lives.

When Jonas discovers memory, he realizes that choice is essential to human happiness. Choice, he learns, is power. He makes the first real choice in his life when he decides to escape from the community and take Gabriel with him. In making this significant and dangerous choice, he gives a windfall of pleasure and pain to the people he leaves behind, and gives the freedom of choice back to the community.

Freedom and Choice ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Giver related to the theme of Freedom and Choice.
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 4 Quotes
He just bowed to all of us and then walked, like they all do, through the special door in the Releasing Room. But you should have seen his look. Pure happiness, I'd call it.
Related Characters: Larissa (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonas goes to his regular volunteer hours at the House of Old, where he helps bathe an old woman named Larissa. She tells him about the events of her day, in which she and the rest of the House celebrated the release of a man named Roberto. 

In this quote, Larissa recalls the joy that Roberto seemed to exude when he was led away for release. "Release" is a nebulous word for systematic removal from the Community to "Elsewhere." The word is frequently used by the book's characters, most of whom seem to be ignorant to the fact that it is really Community-imposed killing of those deemed unfit for society. The look of joy on Roberto's face likely comes from the fact that he does not know he is being led away to die—perhaps he is happy because he has been celebrated for his individuality, likely for only the second time in his life (the first comes during the Assignment of Twelves, when children received jobs tailored to their abilities and personalities). As the Sameness removes all differences and even birthdays, people are rarely celebrated for their unique lives--that is, until they are about to be "released" to make room for a new, more productive member of society (a newchild is soon named Roberto). This celebration of life right before death makes Community members actually excited for their own release dates, and reduces any discomfort surrounding the notion of being led "Elsewhere" or inquiry into what this morbid practice might be. Release therefore functions as both a form of population and social control. 

Chapter 6 Quotes
If you don't fit in, you can apply for Elsewhere and be released. My mother says that once, about ten years ago, someone applied and was gone the next day.
Related Characters: Asher (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Asher and Jonas discuss how nervous they are about their upcoming Ceremony of Twelves, during which time they will receive their work Assignments. Asher jokes that if he receives an Assignment he hates, such as Sanitation, he'll jump in the river and swim to "Elsewhere," like someone was rumored to have done before. In this quote, Asher notes that if a person does not feel as if they fit into the Community, they can apply for release--like someone did ten years ago.

This quote is illuminating to the fact that neither Jonas nor Asher has any idea what "Elsewhere" is. They assume that it is another Community where people are placed when they are no longer suited to their own. It is also evidence of just how institutionalized the Sameness is in the Community, to the point that its governing bodies agree to release individuals who cannot conform to their rules, rather than the individuals simply leaving or escaping. Though much of the Community's safety and harmony appear to be the hallmarks of an idyllic society, the ritualized killing of nonconforming individuals reveal it to ultimately be a dystopia, likely borne out of some cataclysmic past event. The rules of the Community are so rigid that once a person has been assigned a job, it is very unlikely that it will ever change--the only option is personal removal from the Community. Unity is so heavily valued that outliers even know that they do not fit in, and essentially request suicide rather than live in discord until their government-sanctioned release during old age. 

Chapter 11 Quotes
I have a great honor. So will you. But you will find that that is not the same as power.
Related Characters: The Giver (speaker), Jonas
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

During their first training session, the Giver gives Jonas a memory of sliding down a snow-covered hill, something that does not exist in the Community. Jonas wishes aloud that the Giver could bring back such a delightful activity using his power. In this quote, the Giver points out that while his Assignment brings great honor--as does Jonas's--this is very different than having power. 

The Receiver's job is to contain all the memories--good and bad--that exist from before the Sameness. This is to ensure that they are not present in the Community for anyone else to access. This functions as a form of control for the governing Elders, who impose the Sameness without any discord due to the fact that no one has any memory or concept of what came before their present structured lives. This completely removes any possibility of hindsight for anyone but the Receiver, who is occasionally called upon to advise the Elders. Though he can draw on years and years of memories, he is rarely listened to, leaving him with an unbearable amount of wisdom that he alone knows how to use, and no one else can (or wants to) understand. 

Chapter 12 Quotes
Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others. >
Related Characters: The Giver (speaker)
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jonas tells the Giver about seeing a change in Fiona's hair, similar to what he saw in the apple, the Giver tells Jonas that he is beginning to see the color red. He explains that before the Sameness, everything was different colors. The fact that Jonas can see "beyond" the colorlessness of the Sameness proves his worth as a Receiver. The Community, explains the Giver, gave up certain choices in order to impose harmony and peace.

The lack of differences that the Sameness imposed upon the Community extends not just to visual blandness, but to emotional sterility as well. By sacrificing almost everything that makes things and people different--the seasons, colors, bonds, biological children, etc.--the Community is largely devoid of strong emotions and feelings. There is rarely such a thing as having a strong affinity or aversion to someone or something since everything is more or less the same, or is at least an understood event or rule that is necessary for the good of the Community.

The Giver and Jonas alone understand the importance of having choice in one's life--it leads to a personal identity created by a series of unique choices that one makes, and leads to a vast amount of self-discovery in the process. A complete lack of choices makes life utterly predictable and indistinguishable from the life of virtually any other member of the Community, give or take a few instances. Despite this overwhelming revelation, the burden of wisdom does not immediately translate into acquisition of power, and the Giver has been unable to bring about any real change to the Community. 

Chapter 13 Quotes
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. 

Sometimes I wish they'd ask for my wisdom more often-there are so many things I could tell them; things I wish they would change. But they don't want change. Life here is so orderly, so predictable-so painless. It's what they've chosen.
Related Characters: The Giver (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

The Giver warns Jonas that the secrecy of his position means that he cannot tell anyone, even a future spouse, about the nature of his memories. No one in the Community, not even Instructors, know as much as he does. Yet, the Elders rarely come to him for advice on issues such as changing the rules, though the Giver knows he has much wisdom to impart upon life in the Community. 

In this quote, the Giver reasons that the Elders don't want to hear his suggestions because they like life the way it is: orderly, neat, and utterly devoid of pain. The Community functions on the philosophy that a lack of pain means the presence of happiness; the Giver and Jonas know this is utterly untrue. True humanity results from both suffering and joy, and the two emotions are simply a fact of life. By depriving Community members of physical and mental strife, happiness doesn't automatically fill the void: they are also deprived of understanding what real love, individuality, friendship, and passion are as human emotions. Mistakes are also an intrinsic part of the human experience, and the rigid rules of the Community remove all choice from one's personal life to the point that everything--from one's parents, to one's spouse, to one's death date--is determined by a counsel of Elders. To remove choice is to completely remove individuality, rendering each member another flesh-and-bone unit of a well-oiled machine. Yet it does function, and the counsel is not interested in hearing the Giver's suggestions as to how to make it more vibrant and closer to the natural human experience. 

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 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. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.
Related Characters: Jonas
Related Symbols: The Snow-covered Hill
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

One day during the escape, it begins to snow--Jonas and Gabe's first comprehension of this kind of weather, beyond the memories of sledding. Jonas must abandon his bike and carries Gabe. As they both begin to freeze and Jonas tries to conjure memories of warmth and sunshine, Jonas begins to see flashbacks of many memories: He and Gabe sliding down a hill together on a sled, into a warm room of colored lights, where the family that first taught him love is. 

In this quote, Jonas begins to hear something he has never heard before, but knows the word from the Giver: music. Because memories endure forever, Jonas can hear people doing what he assumes to be "singing" from long ago through "distances of space and time." This quote marks the end of the novel, and it is ambiguous as to what extent this sensation is real for Jonas: it could be that the two boys are finally happening upon a Community where love and warmth are realities, or it could be, sadly, that they are succumbing to the snow and dying. Regardless of what Gabe and Jonas's true fate is, by escaping the Community, they see, feel, and hear more than they ever would in a lifetime in the Sameness. This final experience for both boys, of love, happiness, and music, is something that is worth sacrificing their sterile lives for. Heroically, by leaving, Jonas also sacrifices all of his memories to his Community, as will the Giver when he is released. Perhaps, at this moment back in the Community, the Sameness has finally been broken, and the music Jonas hears behind him is symbolically coming from the changing Community itself.