The Giver Summary and Study Guide

Lois Lowry

The Giver

  • 61-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 23 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in English
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The Giver Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 61-page guide for “The Giver” by Lois Lowry includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 23 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Societal Control Versus Individual Freedom and Imposed Rituals and the Loss of Autonomy.

Plot Summary

Published in 2003, The Giver is a work of young adult fiction. Author Lois Lowry received a 1994 Newbery Medal for her dystopian novel, although the text, with themes considered possibly too dark for the reader’s age group, was challenged throughout the 1990s. The Giver takes place in the future, in a carefully-designed community that is extremely safe and orderly. The people who live in this community do not have to deal with problems such as war and famine, but they have given up most of their opportunities to make choices and express their individuality. One citizen of the community is Jonas, a perceptive and intelligent boy who is about to turn 12 years old. The story revolves around his experiences as he reaches an important milestone: receiving his job assignment for adult life.

Jonas’s family unit consists of Jonas; his father, a Nurturer; his mother, who works for the Department of Justice; and his sister, Lily, who is about to turn 8. They live together in a dwelling where they have meals together and take part in daily rituals such as the sharing of dreams and the analysis of feelings. Before long, the dwelling gains another inhabitant at night: Gabriel, a baby who is struggling to meet the community’s expectations at the Nurturing Center. If his weight and sleep habits do not improve soon, he will be released, or sent to Elsewhere. Jonas’s father convinces the Committee of Elders to let the family care for him at night, in the hopes that it will help him meet these goals.

All of the children turning 12 find out their assignments at an event called the “Ceremony of Twelve.” At the beginning of the book, Jonas feels apprehensive about his upcoming Ceremony of Twelve. The community’s elders lead these ceremonies and make job assignments that seem like a good fit for each 12-year-old’s temperament, interests, and aptitudes. The elders also pair people with suitable spouses, if they apply for such a partner, and assign children to couples that request them and are deemed adequate.

Shortly before the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas has an unusual experience. When tossing an apple to his friend Asher, he sees in an instant that something about it changes before his eyes. He struggles to describe what has happened. Later it is revealed that he glimpsed the apple’s color. The community’s citizens see nondescript colors, not a variety of bright and muted hues. This incident is an example of something called “seeing beyond” (91), and it sets Jonas apart from others in the community. Jonas is also different because he has pale eyes; most other citizens, including his mother, father, and sister, have dark eyes. Jonas’s pale eyes enable him to perceive and understand things that others cannot. Gabriel also has pale eyes, as does the Receiver of Memory, a community elder who Jonas knows little about. When Jonas is selected to be the community’s next Receiver, he begins training with this mysterious old man after school each day. The community’s Chief Elder tells Jonas that Receiver is the most honored position there is. In this role, Jonas stores the entire world’s memories, including those from eras past. He is told that the position requires him to endure physical pain, something he has barely experienced before.

The outgoing Receiver tells Jonas to call him “the Giver.” He teaches Jonas about his new role and transmits memories to Jonas by placing his hands on the boy’s back. When the Giver transmits a memory to Jonas, it leaves him forever. Jonas receives pleasant memories about sunshine, sledding, and rainbows, as well as harrowing ones about war, neglect, and more. One of the most pleasant and meaningful memories involves a holiday scene with children and their loving grandparents. When Jonas receives memories, part of him travels to the time and place the memory was made, and he relives the experience. By experiencing things his community has engineered away—such as terror, hunger, color, and excitement—he sees that the life he is living lacks richness and meaning. He longs to share what he’s learning and experiencing with the people he cares about, but he’s not allowed to utter a word about his training to anyone but the Giver. As Receiver, he’s consigned to a life of secrecy and solitude; he can ask anyone a question and lie if he must, but he’s forbidden from sharing the details of his role. The other people in the community wouldn’t understand since they do not experience pain, intense feelings, or collective memories as Jonas and the Giver do.

As Jonas’s training progresses, he feels increasingly alienated from his family and friends. They only experience mild emotions, and they continue to value the order, control, and predictability that help the community run smoothly. Meanwhile, Jonas feels emotions more deeply than before and begins to question some of the community’s values. He starts to see the value in making choices for oneself, even when risk is involved, and why one might want to pay attention to differences. He starts thinking about the meaning of freedom and pondering what life might be like outside the community. He learns what love is, but his family members can’t comprehend the concept. Jonas gives his love to those who seem to need and understand it the most: the Giver and baby Gabriel. To help Gabriel sleep soundly, Jonas transmits calming memories to the boy each night. Jonas knows this is against the rules, but he doesn’t want Gabriel to be released.

The Giver becomes like a grandfather to Jonas. In addition to providing guidance, he loves and cares about the future Receiver. The Giver helps Jonas deal with the pain and sadness he’s experiencing through difficult memories and the isolating nature of the Receiver role. He also shares wisdom from his life, including a heartbreaking situation from 10 years earlier. The community leaders selected a girl named Rosemary to become the next Receiver. Rosemary happened to be the Giver’s daughter. Partway through the training, after she started receiving heart-wrenching memories, she applied for release. The Giver never saw her again, but he did see a recording of her release. He learned that release is not simply sending someone to Elsewhere, as he had been told. Release involves a lethal injection, and Rosemary delivered her own. The Giver believes he failed his daughter, himself, and the community. After Rosemary died, the memories she stored came flooding back to the rest of the community, whose members were not equipped to deal with them. Because of this incident, Receivers can no longer apply for release.

When Jonas tells the Giver that he wants to see his father prepare a twin baby for release, he gets more than he bargained for. The recording shows that Jonas’s father did not do the things he claimed he would do to help the baby, such as making him clean and comfortable. Jonas watches his father administer the lethal injection to the helpless infant, and then toss the child’s body in a trash bin. Jonas feels betrayed and overwhelmed by anger. He realizes that the gentle, caring father he knew is a farce, and that release is a form of killing. Jonas knows he cannot stay in the community, so he and the Giver plot a plan for his escape. Jonas will flee the community in two weeks, in the dark of night. The Giver will stay behind to help the community deal with the memories that come flooding back.

The plan disintegrates when Jonas learns that Gabriel will be released the next day, despite all the progress he has made over the past year. He places Gabriel in the child seat on his father’s bike and pedals over the river, away from the community. He is not afraid of the changes his new life will hold or the uncertainty it will bring, but he worries that he won’t be able to keep Gabriel safe, especially as search planes fly overhead. Jonas transmits soothing memories to the baby to help him sleep during difficult parts of the journey and memories of snow to cool him so that the planes’ heat sensors don’t detect his presence.

Eventually the airplanes disappear, and the landscape begins to change. New problems arise for the escaped duo. Food has become scarce, and Jonas and Gabriel grow cold and weak. Jonas tries to warm the shivering child with wisps of memories about sunshine. He receives a burst of strength when he experiences his first memories of his very own: recollections about his family, friends, and the Giver. Jonas and Gabriel then find a sled that looks like the one from Jonas’s first received memory. They begin descending a hill, and Jonas thinks he sees the house from the Christmas scene that taught him about love. He hears music and feels hopeful that someone there is waiting for him and Gabriel.

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Chapters 1-3