The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Memory Police can help.

The Memory Police: Chapter 14  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Three days later, the Memory Police release the old man, and the narrator finds him on the ferry in his room. She tells him how glad she is that he’s safe and strokes his hair. His voice is hoarse, his face is pale, and his lips have scabs all over them. The narrator makes him soup and feeds it to him.
The narrator cares for the old man in a way that shows love still exists on the island, even if the Memory Police are trying to separate people.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator asks the old man about what happened while the Memory Police had him. He says not to worry about R, since they captured him (the old man) for an unrelated “smuggling incident.” Apparently, recently, a group of people who had not lost their memories got on a boat and fled the island. The narrator is stunned that anyone could remember how to use a boat, let alone plan an escape. The Memory Police rounded up anyone who had once had knowledge of ships. The old man says that the interrogation was “impressive” and long, but since he didn’t know anything about the incident, it wasn’t too bad. He assures the narrator that the Memory Police don’t know anything about the secret room.
The story that the old man tells the narrator is significant, because it proves that there are people fighting against the Memory Police and against the island’s isolation. It’s also noteworthy that the Memory Police left the old man in such bad shape, because it speaks to their level of cruelty—that they’d harshly interrogate an old man—and to their obsession with control, since they hate the idea of someone leaving the island.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator is in awe that anyone would plan such a daring escape and imagines what it must have been like to get into a boat and go out to sea under the cover of darkness. She wonders aloud if they escaped safely and asks the old man where he thinks they were going. He says he doesn’t know, but maybe there’s somewhere beyond the island where “people whose hearts aren’t empty can go on living.”
The narrator is impressed that there are people taking charge of their own fate and trying to leave the island. It’s noteworthy that neither she nor the old man even know if there’s somewhere else in the world where people aren’t affected by disappearances, since this speaks to how totally isolated they are on the island.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Not long after the old man’s return, R’s wife gives birth to their baby boy. The narrator facilitates the communication between R and his wife, since the old man is still not fully healthy. The narrator finds out about the baby because R’s wife leaves a picture of a sleeping baby drawn in colored pencil in their pre-arranged hiding spot. His wife includes a note saying that the pregnancy went smoothly, and that they are waiting for the day when R will be able to take the child in his arms.
It is both a hopeful and a sad moment when R’s wife tells him about the baby, because, though it means there is a new life in the world, it is also a reminder that R is isolated and locked away. The pencil drawing of the newborn shows how people learn to navigate disappearances (since, ordinarily, this would be a photograph, but photographs have disappeared).
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Get the entire The Memory Police LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Memory Police PDF
When the narrator opens the trap door to give R his wife’s package, she notes that his body seems smaller than it used to, like it’s shrinking to accommodate the smallness of the secret room. She wonders if his body is ridding itself of everything but the essential in order to “adapt” to this new way of living. She finds him polishing her mother’s old silver, a task he’s taken to. When he notices her, he explains that it’s a satisfying job—the more care you give silver, the more pleasure you can take from it.
R's body appearing to shrink signifies how, even though he does not lose his memories, he is affected by what is happening on the island.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Quotes
Spontaneously, the narrator starts to tell R a story she once heard about very wealthy families who would have servants carefully polish their silver—so carefully that if one smudge was left, the servants would have to start over. She heard that, over time, servants who did this work eventually lost their voice. But they kept the job because they needed the money, so they “sacrificed” their voices for the income. They narrator then assures R that there’s no rush to polish the silver. She says it would be terrible if he lost his voice, to which he responds that there’s no need to worry, that he’s the one that doesn’t lose anything—remember?
This story is likely inspiration for what will happen later in the narrator’s manuscript, when a woman loses her voice to disastrous ends. The fact that a story she heard long ago inspires her to create a new story shows how storytelling takes different shapes and can be passed down across time and space.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The narrator then gives R the box from his wife, and he sits quietly as he looks at the picture of the baby. After a little while, he says, “of course, photographs have already disappeared.” The narrator doesn’t understand, but then vaguely remembers there used to be smooth pieces of paper that held a person’s image. She tells R that although photographs are gone, they still have frames, and she’ll find him one for the picture of the baby.
This scene encapsulates the difference between someone who remembers and someone who doesn’t. The narrator is not affected by the absence of a photograph, whereas R is moved and worried by it. This suggests that those who remember carry a heavier emotional burden, even if they are lucky, in a way, that the disappearances don’t erase their conceptions of the world. This shows that there is probably an ease or comfort in forgetting, which may be why people are so willing to accept disappearances as beyond their control.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon