Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
For Jonas, the newchild Gabriel is a symbol of hope and of starting over. Babies frequently figure as symbols of hope and regeneration in literature, and in The Giver this makes perfect sense: Gabriel is too young to have absorbed the customs and rules of the community, so he is still receptive to the powerful memories that Jonas transmits to him. Jonas takes Gabriel with him to save Gabriel’s life, but his gesture is also symbolic of his resolve to change things, to start a new life Elsewhere. His struggles to keep Gabriel alive reflect his struggles to maintain his ideals in the face of difficulty.
The sled, the first memory Jonas receives from the Giver, symbolizes the journey Jonas takes during his training and the discoveries he makes. It is red, a color that symbolizes the new, vital world of feelings and ideas that Jonas discovers. Before he transmits the memory, the Giver compares the difficulty he has in carrying the memories to the way a sled slows down as snow accumulates on its runners. The novelty and delight of the downhill ride are exhilarating, and Jonas enjoys the ride in the same way that he enjoys accumulating new memories. But the sled can be treacherous, too: the first memory of extreme pain that he experiences involves the sled. Pleasure and pain are inevitably related on the sled, just as they are in the memories. When, at the end of the novel, Jonas finds a real sled, it symbolizes his entry into a world where color, sensation, and emotion exist in reality, not just in memory.
The river, which runs into the community and out of it to Elsewhere, symbolizes escape from the confines of the community. When little Caleb drowns in the river, it is one of the few events that the community cannot predict or control, and Jonas and the Giver are inspired to try to change the community by the idea of the river’s unpredictable behavior.