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.
Memory Theme Icon

Sometime in the past, Jonas's community decided to give up their memories in order to eliminate the pain and regret that came with them. They were trying to create a totally peaceful and harmonious society without conflict, war, or hate by eliminating emotion entirely. They succeeded: the community is almost perfectly stable and totally safe. Yet Jonas realizes that without memories, a person can't learn from mistakes, celebrate accomplishments, know love or happiness or any other deep emotion, or grow as an individual.

In The Giver, memory doesn't function as it does in the real world. Certain people have the power to transmit memories to others, and this ability is connected to the trait of blue eyes, which Jonas, The Giver, and Gabriel all share. Memory is also not just a mental exercise. Instead, it's an actual experience: Jonas literally feels the cold when he remembers snow. Finally, when a keeper of memories, called a Receiver, dies or leaves the community, all of his or her memories are released to the community. By bestowing upon memory these magical properties, Lowry emphasizes memory's preciousness and its power to influence, guide, and enrich life.

Memory ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Giver related to the theme of Memory.
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. 

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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. 

Chapter 14 Quotes
The sled hit a bump in the hill and Jonas was jarred loose and thrown violently into the air. He fell with his leg twisted under him, and could hear the crack of bone. His face scraped along jagged edges of ice… In his agony he perceived the world "fire" and felt flames licking at the torn bone and flesh.
Related Characters: Jonas
Related Symbols: The Snow-covered Hill
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jonas arrives at the Giver's room for training each day after school, he often finds the old man in excruciating pain. The Giver usually shoos him away, and tells him to come back tomorrow. One day, Jonas insists that the Giver give him some of the painful memories so that he can relieve the burden. In this quote, the Giver gives Jonas another memory of sledding on a hill, though with an unhappy ending in the form of an excruciatingly painful broken leg. 

Since the major goal of life in the Community is to eradicate all suffering by reducing differences and strong emotions with a highly regimented way of life, Jonas has never known true mental or physical pain. He can recall once or twice when he crushed a finger or scraped a knee, but these minor aches and pains were always immediately relieved with a pill that acts as a pain panacea. Jonas has never known an unexpected pain that was not quickly cured. It is this first painful memory that shows Jonas why humankind, long ago, worked to create the Sameness that governs his present Community. Though Jonas still wishes his life were made richer by many of the things he has thus experienced in his training, he understands that the reasons behind the Sameness are more complicated than he realized. It also helps him to empathize with the pain of the Giver, a strong emotion predicated on care and understanding of another human being that sterile life in the Community suppresses. By beginning to comprehend what it truly means to experience pain, Jonas is also able to better understand the gravity and importance of pleasurable feelings like friendship or love as counterbalances in the human experience--or at least the human experience as it existed before the Sameness. 

He was not aware of giving the memory; but suddenly he realized that it was becoming dimmer, that it was sliding through his hand into the being of the newchild.
Related Characters: Jonas
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Since Gabriel sleeps most soundly in Jonas's room at night, Jonas's father consents to letting the baby sleep there when he comes home with him at the end of each day. One night, while trying to calm the crying newchild, Jonas absentmindedly thinks of a happy memory the Giver gave him, and realizes that he feels it slip away as the child's cries die down. Jonas then realizes that, like himself, Gabe is a receiver, and that Jonas has just passed on his first memory. 

Jonas and Gabe both have light eyes, as does the Giver, whereas most members of the Community have dark eyes. This is one noticeable physical difference that separates them from the rest of society and suggests that they are more permeable to seeing "beyond" than the rest of the members of the Community. Jonas often feels very alone after his training sessions, since he cannot discuss the memories or the nature of his work with anyone other than the Giver. He finds kinship in Gabe, a baby who also looks different like he does, and who is also on the fringes of society, as he is in constant danger of being released. Though this new power to Give startles Jonas at first, it inspires within him a bond with Gabe that he does not feel with anyone other than the Giver. This shows that the memories, rather than only frightening members of the Community as they did when the previous Receiver passed away, have the power to heal and bring comfort and wisdom far beyond any rule or counsel can. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
He felt such love for Asher and for Fiona. But they could not feel it back, without the memories.
Related Characters: Jonas, Asher, Fiona
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

Jonas gets into a fight with Asher and some of his friends when they begin to play a game that simulates war. Though he frequently played the game as a child, once he experienced the horrors of war and the senseless death it brings through the memories, he becomes angry about the carelessness with which his friends pretend to attack and kill one another. Fiona finds Jonas distraught, comforts him shortly, and leaves. In this quote, Jonas realizes that though he now understands that he loves his friends Asher and Fiona, they can never love him back.

Like his parents, Jonas knows that his friends' emotional shortcomings are not due to their personal faults, but the society that they have been raised and exist in. In order to preserve peace, strong emotions like fear and love have had to be erased from society. Jonas feels immeasurable sadness at the realization that he and the Giver are the only people in their Community who can truly feel love, and this understanding pushes him further into emotional isolation. Thanks to the pills, forced separation to avoid bonds between people and their biological relations, and the containment of the memories into the Giver and the Receiver, society has no collective understanding that there ever was such a thing as love or fear. The only way for people to understand what they lost with the Sameness, Jonas now knows, is to have them experience the memories for themselves. 

Chapter 18 Quotes
Memories are forever.
Related Characters: The Giver (speaker)
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

The Giver tells Jonas about what happened when Rosemary, the previous Receiver, applied for release: when she went Elsewhere, all of her memories were also released into the Community, and caused widespread panic. Jonas asks what would happen if he drowned in the river, and the Giver warns him severely against anything that would cause his death: only five weeks' worth of memories were released when Rosemary died, but a whole years' worth would escape if Jonas did. Though the Community does its best to suppress all the memories of life before the Sameness, as the Giver notes here, they can never truly go away; "Memories are forever."

Though the people who imposed the Sameness were extremely thorough in ironing out any differences in society--sexual preferences, colors, ages after Twelve, ill-chosen spouses or careers, friendships, relationships, and so on--there was only so much they could do due to the fact that memories never truly go away. Thus, the role of the Receiver was born, a terribly painful and isolating position in which one is given artificial "honor" to bear every joy and every pain felt throughout time. Though Jonas is distraught the more he learns how sterilized his life has been, he and the Giver are mildly comforted by the fact that what they alone can feel will continue to be felt, at least by one singular member of the Community, for the rest of time. No matter how many pills or rules are created, memories will never disappear to an elusive "Elsewhere." 

Chapter 21 Quotes
Though he had never seen one before, he identified it from his fading memories, for The Giver had given them to him often. It was a bird.
Related Characters: Jonas, The Giver
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

While everyone is at the annual Ceremony, Jonas escapes away from the bounds of the Community with a pack of food and Gabe strapped to his Father's bicycle. After some time, airplanes come trying to look for them, which they deftly hide from. One day, Gabe cries that he sees an airplane, but Jonas looks up and sees something else flying in the sky. He immediately identifies it as a bird, something that he has only seen in memories before, since no animals beyond fish for food exist within the Community.

The sight of the bird gives Jonas the first real-life taste of his own experience of something that he has previously seen only in a memory. It shows him that other things he knows from memories, but not from personal experience, like the ocean and war and elephants and snow and sledding, really do exist in the world and are out there for him to find now that he has escaped from the Community. It also shows the reader that the Sameness exists only within the bounds of the Community, and perhaps other settlements of people exist where all of these ideals previously intangible to Jonas may be right at his fingertips. The sight and understanding of this bird fuels Jonas to keep on pedaling, to save and enrich both he and Gabe's lives.