Conflict arises when Jonas becomes aware of reality as he receives Memories. This awareness is very unsettling to him. He begins to mentally revolt against some of the restrictions placed on community members.
Jonas is the protagonist in this story.
No one character fits the label, antagonist. But, the antagonist can
be something in the physical environment or in the society. The system
of Sameness under which the community lives is the antagonist when this
more expansive definition of the word is used.
The climax of the story, the point of no return, is when Jonas realizes
that Release of newchildren is actually killing them. The fact is made
worse by the knowledge that it is his father doing the killing.
The outcome of this realization is that Jonas flees the community with Gabriel in order to save Gabriel from being "released".
The Giver is written from Jonas's point of view. We see his community through his experiences. At first, his community seems to be a good place to live. There is no pain. Everyone is polite. Everyone has what they need. They have a home and food. They have a job that fits their interests and abilities. As the story progresses, we learn more about the community. Some of it is unsettling. Children are born to Birthmothers who never see them. After their first months in the Nurturing Center, they are given to compatible couples who have applied for a child. Each family can include two children, no more. When the children are grown, the parents go to live with the Childless Adults. Later, when they no longer contribute to the community, they go to the House of the Old until they are released. Release happens to the Old, unacceptable newchildren and those who break three rules. Release is actually death, but is not called that. Talk of death along with other topics that might upset people is unacceptable. People in the community cannot see color and they cannot feel love. They have no memories of the past. This started many generations ago when the community went to Sameness.
Jonas lives with his father, mother and sister. They are the father, mother and sister who have been selected for him. Father is a Nurturer. He cares for newchildren at the Nurturing Center. He has brought home one newchild who needs special attention. His name is Gabriel and he has trouble sleeping through the night. Mother works at the Department of Justice. Lily is four years younger than Jonas. Jonas is Eleven at the beginning of the book. He is looking forward to being assigned the job, or Assignment, that he will have for all of his working life. It will be a job that fits him, his interests and abilities. The Elders have been watching him and the other Elevens for a year or longer to help them make the best matches between children and jobs. He does a variety of volunteer activities, not concentrating on any special one. If he had shown a special interest in one particular activity, like his father had done when he constantly volunteered at the Nurturing Center, he could guess what his Assignment might be. Jonas has light eyes, which is rare in his community. And, his eyes are developing a special ability. At first, he does not know what it is. Later, he finds out that he can see color. His ability to see color is only transient at first.
When the Ceremony of Twelve finally takes place, Jonas receives an unusual assignment. He becomes the new Receiver of Memory, the person who is responsible for all of the memories of the community. The current Receiver trains him by passing on his memories to Jonas. There are many, many memories to pass to Jonas. There are all the memories of the past, the wars, the famines, the floods, and many pleasant memories as well. The current Receiver, who tells Jonas to call him the Giver, has much to give.
As Jonas absorbs the memories of the past, he grows. He realizes how much he has been missing, how much his community has been missing. They have avoided suffering, but at a high cost. They have given up much that enriches life. As his growth continues and as his store of memories grows, he becomes more and more uncomfortable with his life as it is. A distance develops between Jonas and his friends, Asher and Fiona, as he becomes able to feel love and they cannot. In the meantime, Jonas and the Giver grow closer. The Giver understands him as no one else in the community can. He has felt like Jonas feels for years. As Jonas's distress grows, the Giver says that they can formulate a plan to change things. And they do. But, before they can put it into action, time runs out.
Jonas helps his family care for a newchild, Gabriel. In his involvement with Gabriel, Jonas becomes attached to Gabriel. Jonas eventually learns what Release really is (death), and that his father performs it on unacceptable newchildren (Gabriel won't sleep without crying). He finds out that the Nurturing Center plans to release Gabriel because he still has trouble sleeping through the night. He makes a quick decision and takes off, heading for Elsewhere with Gabriel. Elsewhere is outside the place where the community is located. In Elsewhere things are like they were before the change to Sameness took place in the community.
While Jonas's sudden departure does not allow for much of the original plan, one part of the plan can still take place. Jonas's memories flow back to the community as Jonas and Gabriel head toward Elsewhere.
Jonas and Gabriel travel many days in winter weather. It is a difficult
journey, made more difficult by the lack of preparation time. But, finally,
after struggling through snow, they reach the crest of a hill from which
they can see a place with windows in which are colored lights. Jonas knows
that this is the place they wanted to reach.