by Lois Lowry
Tools of Characterization
There's a lot to be said about names in The Giver. Of course, we can't be certain of any of the references we think we see, but we can talk about them anyway. Starting with Jonas.
We played around with some etymology and, as it turns out, "Jonas" comes from "Jonah." Bust out those Bibles, folks – we're going Old Testament diving.
OK, so God ordered Jonah to make a prophecy. Jonah refused, and tried to skip town on a ship. Except, in the Bible, God is omnipotent, so he quickly found Jonah and sent a storm to, um, rock the boat. The sailors threw Jonah overboard to make amends, and he was quickly swallowed by a big fish (or whale, depending on how you like it). While inside the whale, Jonah figured it was a pretty good time to make amends. So he prayed to God and was vomited out (not a pleasant experience, but probably better than the alternative exit route).
What does this have to do with The Giver? Well, you can interpret to your heart's delight now that we've told you what you need to know. It could be that Jonas, like Jonah, is a scapegoat. Jonas is sacrificed, in a sense, for the sake of the community (he has to bear the pain of the memories so that they don't have to.) Or, you could think about some of these questions: does Jonas run away from anything? Does he shirk his duties? Is he punished for doing so? In what way is he a prophet?
That's not all for the biblical in The Giver, either. The newchild Gabriel could be a reference to the Archangel Gabriel, God's messenger, who announced to Mary that Jesus was going to be born. In a way, Gabriel "announces" to Jonas the opportunity for a new beginning. If you don't buy that, at least think about the fact that everything happens in DECEMBER. Jonas is announced as the Receiver in December, he takes Gabriel and makes his escape in December, and, oh, right, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December.
Lastly, you've got Fiona as a classic Scottish name, which makes sense for the girl with the flaming red hair. Asher comes from Hebrew and means "happy," which we think works for a cheerily oblivious class clown. The Giver doesn't have a name, which fits for a guy whose entire being consists of holding other people's memories. And Rosemary is an herb associated with memory.
Occupation is a pretty clear indication of character in The Giver. In fact, it borders a bit on contrivance or being a gimmick, since the Elders look for clues to decide which profession to assign. Fiona likes the elderly, so she ends up taking care of the old. Asher is a prankster, so he'll run recreation. We might be inclined to rebel against this, since we like to think of people as being a bit more than one-dimensional. In the community, this isn't really the case. Looks like individuality is one of the sacrifices the Elders have decided to make.
Appearances tend to be symbolic in The Giver. Fiona's hair, for example, is red and fiery, much like those pesky adolescent sexual urges that Jonas feels toward her. More important is the whole light-colored eyes thing, but you can read all about that in Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory.