Lois Lowry’s The Giver provides the reader with many examples regarding Jonas’ coming of age within a society where the expectation is that rules passed down to a new generation will be followed. He is introduced as an 11 year old boy who matures emotionally, morally and spiritually throughout the novel. Jonas is initially depicted much like the other children in his community blindly following the rules of his society.
He soon changes and moves out of the typical citizens life of obedience. This transition is necessary because of the role he is assigned in his community and the wisdom he gains. Jonas is given the daunting assignment of being the Receiver of Memory. As Jonas is exposed to new experiences he realizes that everyone around him is oblivious to the imperfections and faults of their utopian society. His community expected him to follow the rules and that he not would question the foundation of their society as a result of his new role. Each new experience leads him to question the life that he thought he understood. Jonas cannot share aspects of life that he has discovered and suffers despite experiencing happiness on many occasions.
While Jonas receives the Giver’s memories, he also experiences a moral awakening. Jonas discovers numerous examples of how humanity has mistreated others through the memories that he is handed down. One memory that brought attention to Jonas’ new morality in terms of coming of age was the cruel poaching of the elephants. While Jonas saw the poachers, hack the tusks from a motionless elephant on the ground and haul them away, spattered with blood. He felt himself overwhelmed with a new perception of the color he knew as red.(page 184) His sister, much like everyone else in his society, would not believe that elephants existed and therefore could not appreciate the horror that he was experiencing. Another way that Jonas experiences a moral awakening is the discovery of the meaning of release. Jonas is sickened by the idea that someone’s life is unfairly and abruptly ended. Jonas uses this moral awakening to choose to save the life of Gabriel, an infant at risk of being released. Jonas therefore learns that he can make choices that benefit the individual rather than acting to only benefit the community.
As Jonas also develops a spiritually, one distinct memory that taps into this was the memory of Christmas. This was the first time that Jonas had been a part of a loving and caring family, a family that values tradition, not because they have to celebrate, but because they are free to. This memory was also the first time Jonas had been involved with old people because The Old of the community did not ever leave their special place, the House of the Old, where they were so well cared for and respected.(page 224) Or so he thought. This memory made Jonas feel a part of a family that loved him, he felt accepted which is something that he could never find in his ordinary life. It deepened his care and affection for those around him. Although Jonas’ spiritually was broadened throughout The Giver, his emotions and ability to experience both happiness and suffering made the most impact on his growth during his coming of age.
Each memory Jonas received caused him to become emotionally awakened and opened his eyes to new thoughts and feelings. The range of emotions that Jonas felt contributed to his spiritual and moral growth. The harsh memory of war made an extraordinary impact on Jonas’ emotions as he never thought a battlefield could be mentally scaring. Jonas had played childish war re-enactment games, although, he was never able to imagine all the horrors of the battlefield until receiving the memory. The battlefield memory was one of the most painful and frightening experiences and he became, Overwhelmed by pain, he lay there in the fearsome stench for hours, listened to the men and animals die, and learned what warfare meant.(page 218) The torment that Jonas encountered caused him to lose his love for receiving memories. Alternatively, the memory of a birthday party helped him discover the feeling of being proud and joyous and the feeling the sense of self-worth.
As Jonas gains insight it becomes more and more difficult for him to play the part of a bystander. With Jonas’ moral, spiritual and emotional awakening, he realizes that his society is corrupt and robs those living of their freedoms. Jonas understands the importance of life and that it is the soul and caring that makes a human. Finally Jonas found courage in this coming of age story to make a difference and strive for change in his dull society. The story of Jonas’ coming of age is an exaggeration of what society sometimes experiences. Society’s rules are handed down through the generations and changes are often made that reflect a new understanding by a new generation.