The Giver Book summary

Lois Lowry



Lois Lowry came up with the idea for the Giver after visiting her aged parents at their nursing home. Her mother was blind but she retained all of her memories and suffered deeply from the memory of her past, especially those concerning her deceased daughter, Helen, Lois's elder sister. She had passed away after battling cancer. Lois's father was physically healthy but his long-term memory had nearly faded altogether. He couldn't recall his eldest daughter, and on her way back home Lois concluded that people would forget the pain they had suffered if they no longer possessed memories. In the book, Jonas is forced to come to terms with the fact that bearing pain allowed for a deeper appreciation of the pleasure in life.

The book details life under a totalitarian regime that dictates the minutest details of its citizens' lives. A totalitarian government has no set limits to its power and authority, prominent examples of totalitarian regimes can be found in present-day North Korea, and Nazi Germany during the second world war.

According to the American Library Association, The Giver is one of the most challenged books of all time. Some have said that the book deals with Jonas's sexual awakening, and have thus deemed it inappropriate for the age group that it has been aimed at.


Plot Summary

Jonas is an eleven-year-old boy that lives in a seemingly utopian community. He lives with his family, which includes his father who is a 'Nurturer', a class of citizens responsible for the care of children until they reach the December of their first year. His mother works in the Department of Justice and is therefore responsible for sentencing citizens that break the rules. Jonas also has a younger sister, Lily, who is seven years old. The family unit sits down together at the end of every day to discuss their day and the parents help the children deal with the emotions that they had experienced. This is a custom that is required to occur in all households, as it is one of the rules that all the citizens of the community are required to obey. Jonas is apprehensive about the Ceremony of Twelve, which is an annual ritual that occurs in December along with the ceremonies for the other groups of children in the community. The Ceremony of Twelve is the last and the most important as the eleven-year-olds are given their assignments for the rest of their life in the community.

Jonas's family comforts him by informing him that the Committee of Elders placed a great amount of forethought in allocating assignments. Jonas is reassured and spends the rest of his days occupied with his schoolwork and the mandatory volunteer hours that all his group mates are required to complete before the ceremony. Jonas has spent his time volunteering since the age of 8 like the other children and has chosen to work with a variety of organizations unlike his peers, who have mostly spent their years volunteering at places that interested them most. Jonas spends some of his final volunteer time at the House of Old along with his carefree friend Asher, and Fiona. Jonas helps bathe Larissa, an old woman, who tells Jonas of a ceremony of release that had occurred earlier. Jonas understands that Release occurs when an Elder has completed their life in the community, and it involves being sent Elsewhere. Jonas has also heard his mother talk about the process as a punishment for repeat offenders. Jonas's father mentions that he might be forced to Release a baby who isn't developing at the natural pace. Jonas enquires from Larissa about Release, since he isn't allowed to observe the process like the other children of his community. However, Larissa isn't able to offer a complete answer since she has only seen people being led out of the Releasing Ceremony once the elder's life has been celebrated.

Jonas's father begins to bring home a newborn child called Gabriel, as he fears the child will be released if he is left in the care of the nighttime nurturers. Jonas understands why he has chosen to do so, as the nighttime nurturers are said to be unable to form connections. This is the reason why some of them haven't been allocated spouses, yet. Family units in Jonas's world are created by the Committee of Elders, who match spouses and then grant them children at the Ceremony of One. Every family unit is only allowed to have two children, one male, and the other female. Jonas has an odd dream in which he feels a desire for his female friend Fiona, and he tells his parents about the dream during their daily dream-sharing session as dictated by the rules. His mother informs him that he has just experienced his first Stirring, and gives him a pill that will circumvent the stirrings. Jonas is required to take the pill daily, as dictated by the speakers that pervade throughout their community and remind the citizens about the rules they need to follow.

At the ceremony of Twelve, Jonas's number is skipped until the end of the ceremony, and the Chief Elder then calls Jonas to the stage. She informs him and the rest of the gathered community that Jonas has been chosen to be the next Receiver of the community. The committee of Elders had once before selected a Receiver ten years ago, but that selection had failed. Jonas's parents are extremely surprised by the revelation, and tell him that there only ever is one Receiver. They also tell him that a girl had been chosen as the Receiver ten years ago but she had suddenly disappeared one day. Jonas's instructions are straightforward, he needs to go to the Annex every day to train with the current Receiver and isn't allowed to discuss his training. On his first day of training, Jonas meets the current Receiver, who asks him to refer to him as the Giver. The Giver is an old man that lives in a room filled with books, and the Giver begins by transmitting memories of Snow. Jonas had never seen snow or a hill. The Giver explains that society had chosen to put in place sameness to maximize efficiency. Sameness is standardization of terrain as well as weather.

From the memories, Jonas also learns of color, as the Sameness had left the citizens unable to see color, and Jonas immediately concludes that removing colors was a mistake. The Giver is not always able to carry out the training as some of the memories are extremely painful and it is difficult for him to bear them alone. Jonas loves the vibrancy that the happy memories have introduced in his life, and attempts to share this reality with his friends and family. He is unable to do so. Jonas asks the Giver to share with him the memories of pain, and the Giver complies. Jonas experiences physical pain for the first time in his life and is refused pain medication when he resurfaces from the memory. He returns home limping, still in pain from the memory of the injury. He becomes isolated as he realizes that no one in the community had truly experienced pain. The Giver continues to share with Jonas the painful memories. Tortured by the pain, Jonas asks the Receiver why they were both required to bear such tremendous pain, and the Giver explains that the memories bring wisdom, and the Receiver uses that wisdom to help the committee of Elders in dealing with novel situations. The Receiver is bitter, however, because none of the other citizens truly understand anything, and the committee consults him far too infrequently.

The Giver shares with Jonas his happiest memory, one of a family celebrating Christmas, and Jonas begins to understand the concept of love and family. He is then driven to the painful conclusion that his friends and family are incapable of feeling love for him due to their lack of memories. Jonas decides to help his father care for Gabriel who is still having trouble with sleep. The baby has pale eyes like Jonas. He unknowingly transfers happy memories to the baby as he attempts to comfort him. And chooses to hide that information from the Giver, and Gabriel begins to sleep in his room from then on. Jonas decides that the community cannot be allowed to exist devoid of emotions, so he wants to help introduce love and family into the community. Jonas hears his father discussing the birth of identical twins and the release of the smaller twin as per the rules of the community. Jonas decides to ask the Giver about the Release, and from him learns about Rosemary. She had been the Receiver before him, and the Giver had loved her dearly. However, Rosemary had been unable to bear the burden of all of the painful memories and had chosen to apply for release. Her release had unleashed her painful memories into the world, and the citizens became severely distressed. Jonas tells the Receiver about the release of one of the identical twins and expresses his desire to see the ceremony. The Giver makes the arrangement and both of them watch a video of his father performing the release on a child. Jonas is left horrified as he watches his father kill the child with an injection. Jonas rejects society and refuses to return home. That night, the Giver and Jonas plot a way to return memories to the other members of the community. The Giver also discloses that Rosemary had been his daughter.

Jonas is forced to abandon the carefully concocted plan as he learns that Gabriel is going to be released the following day owing to his failure to sleep peacefully. Jonas escapes that night with the baby, and using his knowledge from his classes and the power of his memories, he avoids detection from the heat-sensitive instruments of the planes that are sent out to search for him. Jonas continues to ride his bicycle until he begins to see the sameness recede. Jonas falls and injures himself on the uneven road, but continues onwards. Jonas and Gabriel begin to starve as they had failed to bring along enough food. Jonas's memories also begin to fade a little, and he is forced to confront the dangers of the real world, but he continues onwards. Jonas doesn't care about his own death but he wishes to ensure that Gabriel survives. The weather begins to change and they are forced to experience the cold and snow. Jonas climbs a hill with the belief that Elsewhere will lie beyond its summit. In an almost dreamlike state, Jonas reaches the top and finds a sled at the top, the same one that he had seen in his first memory. He climbs aboard with Gabriel and moves the sled down the hill. Jonas sees a village, and lights as he zips down the hill.

  • Author(s)

    Lois Lowry
  • Publication date


  • Language


  • Classification

    Young adult fiction

  • Pages



Literature, Novel


Houghton Mifflin