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Jonas is the protagonist. The story is written from his point of view. He changes greatly as the story proceeds. In the beginning, Jonas is an Eleven. The time is nearing when he will go through the Ceremony of Twelve. After the Ceremony of Twelve, children are treated as adults. As with other children in the community, the Ceremony of Twelve is an important milestone in Jonasís life. He looks toward it with some unease. He wonders what Assignment he will be given. At the ceremony, he is given a rare Assignment, that of Receiver of Memory.
The Elders have been watching him and know that he is a good choice for this special Assignment. He meets every afternoon with the Giver, who could also be described as the old Receiver. He has depth. Jonas receives memories from the Giver. These are memories that the community wants the Receivers to keep for them. The memories, and the Giver who transmits them to Jonas, cause Jonas to change. He becomes aware of things that he has never previously known or experienced. He becomes aware of other ways of living.
During this time he also learns that his community hides some realities from the people. He becomes disillusioned. He and the Giver make a plan by which Jonas will leave the community and travel to where things are different. But, after they make the plan, something happens that causes Jonas to leave immediately without making the planned preparations first. He takes a child that he has become fond of with him. They travel for many days, heading toward what Jonas is confident is a better place.
The Giver is a wise, older man who has a special place of honor in the community. He is one of a long chain of Receivers of Memory. Each Receiver becomes a Giver when he passes on the memories to the next Receiver of Memory. It is the job of the Giver/Receiver to hold all the memories from the past for the community. Some memories are painful, so it is felt that it is better if only one person holds them, thus saving the community from much pain.
At times, the Elders call on the Receiver/Giver to counsel them on proposed changes in the community. He is able to use the memories to better judge what the likely results of changes would be. He is in a position to save the community from making mistakes. He is compassionate when he gives memories to Jonas.
At first he gives him only pleasant memories. But, after a time, he begins to give him the painful ones. Each day when he gives him painful memories, he ends the session with a pleasant one. He remembers how it was to be a Receiver to Be because that is how he started, back when he himself was a Twelve. As time passes, he and Jonas develop a plan to help themselves and the community as a whole. If the plan works, the community will receive memories. This will enable them to see color and to love. The Giver/Receiver and Jonas will be free to do as they choose.
Father is the father of Jonas and Lily. His Assignment is Nurturer. He has always enjoyed taking care of the newchildren. When he became a Twelve, because the Elders had noticed his interest, he was give the Assignment of Nurturer. Nurturers take care of the newchildren until they become a One, receive a name, and are given to a family. Sometimes they must release a newchild.
When one of the newchildren is in danger of being released because he has trouble sleeping through the night, Father decides to bring him home each night. Even though he is not supposed to do so, Father looks up what name is planned for the newchild so that he can use the name to soothe the boy. Because of Fatherís efforts, his release date is postponed. Father calls Jonas Jonas-bonus and he calls Lily Lily-billy.