Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Advertisement - Guide continues below
There were only two occasions of release which were not punishments. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and the release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we-have-done. This was especially troubling for the Nurturers, like Father, who felt they had failed somehow. But it happened rarely. (1.52)
Here is the first connection between the very young and the very old in The Giver. These two groups are almost treated like different citizens than everyone else in the community; they have special privileges, but are also subject to different rules.
Last night he had watched as his father bathed the newchild. This was much the same: the fragile skin, the soothing water, the gentle motion of his hand, slippery with soap. The relaxed, peaceful smile on the woman's face reminded him of Gabriel being bathed. (4.21)
Jonas identifies another similarity between the very young and the very old: peaceful innocence. The elderly, like the young, have no responsibilities and seem to live an easier life.
The man smiled. He touched the sagging flesh on his own face with amusement. "I am not, actually, as old as I look," he told Jonas. "This job has aged me. I know I look as if I should be scheduled for release very soon. But actually I have a good deal of time left." (10.38)
It looks like the pleasure-pain connection works here, too; The Giver is wiser for his memories, but has been physically weakened by them as well.
Jonas nodded. The man was wrinkled, and his eyes, though piercing in their unusual lightness, seemed tired. The flesh around them was darkened into shadowed circles.
"I can see that you are very old," Jonas responded with respect. The Old were always given the highest respect. (10.36-37)
If the Old have no memories or wisdom, why are they so highly respected? Are they truly respected?
"Oh, there's lots to learn," Fiona replied. "There's administrative work, and the dietary rules, and punishment for disobedience – did you know they use a discipline wand on the Old, the same as for small children? And there's occupational therapy, and recreational activities, and medications, and –" (12.20)
Notice that the elderly and the young are both kept under control by the discipline wand. In a way, these two groups have less freedom of choice than anyone else in the community.
Jonas blurted out what he was feeling. "I was thinking that…well, I can see that it wasn't a very practical way to live with the Old right there in the same place, where maybe they wouldn't be well taken care of, the way they are now, and that we have a better-arranged way of doing things. But anyway, I was thinking, I mean feeling, actually, that it was kind of nice, then. And that I wish we could be that way, and that you could be my grandparent. The family in the memory seemed a little more – " He faltered, not able to find the word he wanted. (16.47)
Jonas recognizes the value not only in family, but in forming close relationships with the elderly. In many ways, The Giver is like a grandparent to him: he passes down wisdom to the younger generation.
Jonas frowned. "But my parents must have had parents! I never thought about it before. Who are my parents-of-the-parents? Where are they? (16.26)
Lowry's narrative technique is fascinating in that we, the reader, often make discoveries at the same time that Jonas does. Until this passage, we probably didn't think about the fact that Jonas didn't seem to have grandparents either.
Jonas stared at him. "Release is always like that? For people who break the rules three times? For the Old? Do they kill the Old, too?"
"Yes, it's true." (20.20-21)
Again, we see that the old are very similar to the infantile in The Giver. This makes sense in a world where wisdom is undervalued—in fact, where it is ignored completely.
Learn more about the theme of old age in The Giver.
Join today and never see them again.