Study Guide

The Giver Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

Chapter 1

Now, thinking about the feeling of fear as he pedaled home along the river path, he remembered that moment of palpable, stomach-sinking terror when the aircraft had streaked above. It was not what he was feeling now with December approaching. He searched for the right word to describe his own feeling.

Jonas was careful about language. Not like his friend, Asher, who talked too fast and mixed things up, scrambling words and phrases until they were barely recognizable and often very funny. (1.11-12)

It's lines like this one that make Asher a great foil for Jonas. In this case, the way each boy thinks about language is a great reflection of their larger differences. Jonas is reflective and pensive, but Asher is impulsive and reckless—with language, yes, but also with actions.

"I felt very angry this afternoon," Lily announced. "My Childcare group was at the play area, and we had a visiting group of Sevens, and they didn't obey the rules at all. One of them – a male; I don't know his name – kept going right to the front of the line for the slide, even though the rest of us were all waiting. I felt so angry at him. I made my hand into a fist, like this." She held up a clenched fist and the rest of the family smiled at her small defiant gesture. (1.27)

Jonas will later realize that for all the supposed "precision of language," words that have to do with emotion—in this case, anger—are actually meaningless in his community.

Chapter 7

The precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack.

The discipline wand, in the hand of the Childcare worker, whistled as it came down across Asher's hands. Asher whimpered, cringed and corrected himself instantly. "Snack," he whispered.

But the next morning he had done it again. And again the following week. He couldn't seem to stop, though for each lapse, the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher's legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when he was a Three. (7.31-33)

It's ironic that corporal punishment is tied to language in The Giver. The entire purpose of "precision of language" should be to avoid conflict and problems, misunderstanding, and even potential violence.

Chapter 9

Now Jonas had a thought that he had never had before. This new thought was frightening. What if others – adults – had, upon becoming Twelves, received in their instructions the same terrifying sentence?

What if they had all been instructed: You may lie?

His mind reeled. Now, empowered to ask questions of utmost rudeness – and promised answers – he could, conceivably (though it was almost unimaginable), ask someone, some adult, his father perhaps: "Do you lie?" (9.45-47)

With this one small realization, Jonas now has to doubt everything he's ever been told. And, in some way, his suspicions are warranted—later on, after all, he will discover that his Father has been lying to him about what "release" means.

He had been trained since earliest childhood, since his earliest learning of language, never to lie. It was an integral part of the learning of precise speech. Once, when he had been a Four, he had said, just prior to the midday meal at school, "I'm starving."

Immediately he had been taken aside for a brief private lesson in language precision. He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving, had ever been starving, would ever be starving. To say starving was to speak a lie. An unintentioned lie, of course. But the reason for precision of language was to ensure that unintentional lies were never uttered. Did he understand that? they asked him. And he had. (9.42-43)

Check out the moment when Jonas first lies; it is when his Mother and Father ask him if he understands why they don't use the word "love." Lying is tied to language in that to use language incorrectly is to lie. But Jonas is actually defending the integrity of language—of the word "love"—when he first lies to his parents.

Chapter 13

"I apologize for hurting you, Lily." Jonas mumbled, and took his hand away.

"'Cept your apology," Lily responded indifferently, stroking the lifeless elephant. (13.39-40)

This is when we, as readers, can really see how frivolous "apologies" are in the community. The words are as "lifeless" as the elephant Lily is stroking. (Zing. How do you like THEM apples?)

Chapter 16

"Do you love me?"

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. "Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!"

"What do you mean?" Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he had anticipated.

"Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it has become almost obsolete," his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory. (16.56-60)

There it is, in all its explicit glory. Language in the community = empty words. Of course, you realized that language was meaningless six chapters ago, so good job.


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