Jonas is thinking about the upcoming December ceremony where he will be told what job he will have for the rest of his life. The Committee of Elders will decide which job best fits his qualifications. Jonas is trying to decide what word best describes how he feels about the ceremony. He decides that frightened is not the best word.
Jonas remembers a time in the past when that word did describe how he felt. It was when, against the rules, an airplane flew over the community. People stopped what they were doing. Directions came over the loudspeaker to go to the nearest building. Everyone did as they were told. Nothing happened. When the possibility of danger was over, the voice on the loudspeaker assured everyone that the pilot would be released. Jonas knows that released was not a word to be used casually. Children are not to threaten each other with it. Jonas remembers once when he used it against his friend, Asher, and was reprimanded for doing so.
Asher frequently used the wrong word. Once he had used distraught when distracted would have been correct. Jonas tries to use the correct word at all times. He decides that he was apprehensive, not frightened.
Over dinner every night Jonas's family have a conversation called the telling of feelings. Each dinner time the family members tell the others gathered at the dinner table about an emotion they had earlier in the day. This night Jonas lets his sister, Lily, go first. His sister tells about a visiting child at her school who did not follow the rules. Her mother suggests that perhaps the child's community has different rules. Father suggests that perhaps the child felt strange.
Then Father tells of his concern for a baby that he has been caring for at work. The child is not doing well. Father wants to bring him home at night. He feels that might help because the night crew does not have the best Nurturers. Mother likes the idea. Jonas and Lily do, too.
After Father's turn is Mother's turn. She works in the Department of Justice and is concerned about a repeat offended that was brought to her. Mother mentions the rule about offenders being released after a third transgression. The family all comfort her.
Now it is Jonas's turn to tell his feelings. When he says that he is apprehensive about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve, Father and Mother know that this conversation should not include Lily. They send her to get ready for bed.
The word frightened in the first sentence of the book is a clue to what is ahead. Otherwise, we might not be aware of the fact that all is not as it appears.
On the surface the community seems like a good place to live although we can already tell that it is different than our communities. There is emphasis on sharing feelings and on correct word usage to avoid misunderstandings. The family members seem interested in each other. These are good ways to act. The presence of the loudspeakers gives the feeling of a dictatorship, but it seems like a benevolent one.
There is something strange about the word release, however. If it only has its usual meaning, then why is so much emphasis placed on not using it lightly?
Jonas's life will soon change dramatically. He is looking forward apprehensively to the change. This foreshadows dramatic changes that will soon be taking place in the community.