The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 15  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One morning, the womanrealizes that her typewriter is broken. She can’t get the keys to move no matter what she does. She’s completely confused because it had just worked the night before, and she can’t communicate without it. As she forcefully prods at the keys, her typing teacher kneels next to her, telling her that will just make it worse. He opens the typewriter’s cover and says that the damage is serious. However, he knows a room in the church where he gives his typing lessons that has the right tools, and they can take it there to fix it.
At this time, the narrator’s manuscript still appears to be cheerful enough, though the typewriter breaking is a huge problem for the protagonist and foreshadows trouble ahead. As always, the narrator’s manuscript mirrors the way she feels about the outside world.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The woman and the teacher climb the stairs to the top of the steeple. The woman remembers how this room always scared her, since the sound of the clock-tower bell reminded her of the “groans of a dying man.” The door is locked, but the teacher has the keys to the room. Once they are inside, the woman is shocked to find a mountain of old typewriters. The room is cold and dusty. The teacher tells her to sit over at a table in the middle of the room. He seems uncharacteristically happy. He asks her how she likes the room. The woman is agitated, since she’s lost her voice and needs her typewriter to communicate with him. She wonders why he’s not starting to repair her typewriter.
The woman starts to really feel the weight of her lost voice and the loss of the typewriter, which shows that these losses are no longer easy to work around and are starting to affect her. The teacher’s behavior is unusual and odd, which worries the woman and signifies that she might be in trouble.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Although the woman taps the teacher on the shoulder, indicating he should start the repairs, he just takes off his pocket watch and starts polishing it. He does this for a while, and she can’t understand why he won’t begin working on the typewriter. He changes the subject, mentioning that he has a class that afternoon. The woman takes note of how many typewriters there are in the room, stacked nearly as high as her head and all sorts of different sizes and shapes. She wonders if they are all waiting to be repaired. She goes over to one that seems the least damaged, but she can’t get it to work. He tells her that every last one is useless. It is then that she realizes there is no paper in the room.
This scene is very foreboding, as more and more things seem to be off. The fact that there are so many other broken typewriters is not good, and signals that something like this may have happened before. Because typewriters are so significant to the woman, and signify connectivity and communication, broken typewriters indicate that there will soon be isolation in the story.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Unable to communicate, the woman wants to say, “fix one, quickly!” but she can only move and grip the teacher’s shoulder. He finally looks up from his stopwatch and says, plainly, that her voice will never come back, because it’s trapped inside the typewriter. “It’s not broken, it’s just sealed off now that it no longer has a purpose.” He then looks around the room and observes how extraordinary it is that each broken typewriter also contains someone’s voice “wasting away” in that room. The woman tries to move her mouth and ask him why he’s doing this, but he tells her there’s no use, that she’ll soon forget she ever had a voice.
The teacher reveals his true nature to the woman, which is evil and malicious. The fact that her voice didn’t just disappear but is “sealed off” means that she may never be able to get it back. This is a terrifying moment for the woman and ultimately mirrors the way that the narrator might feel like it is nearly impossible to retrieve lost memories in the larger narrative.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Quotes
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The typist tells the woman that she no longer has any use for using words—she will now be all his. He holds a hand over her mouth, then holds her throat. She is tense and frozen. He tells her that he became a typing teacher because of the silence of the classroom. His students’ voices disgusted him when they would make idle chatter, but when they were typing, they could not speak because they were so focused. He says he is glad he was able to erase the woman’s voice. He finally lets go of her throat and she sits down, in shock. He tells her he needs to go to class, but she is to stay in the room and be quiet. He leaves and locks the door, leaving her alone.
The fact that the narrator has taken her manuscript in this terrifying direction shows that she is more and more worried about the fate of the island. The oppressive force that she deals with in real life—the Memory Police—takes the form of the typing teacher, who is happy that things are gone forever. The woman is stunned at this turn of events, showing that the narrator may have believed for a time that there was a way out of the cycle of disappearances—but now she’s not so sure. The narrator continues to use storytelling and writing as a way to process the events of her life.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The narrator realizes that the protagonist of her novel (the woman) is also now “trapped in a tight place.” This wasn’t her original plan—she’d initially thought her two characters, “bound by a more ordinary affection,” might calmly go on an adventure to seek out the woman’s lost voice. However, this isn’t how things ended up. Her writing does often take unexpected turns.
The narrator is surprised by the direction her story has taken. The fact that the tension in her story is rapidly escalating beyond her control is a good indication that she feels increasingly overwhelmed by her own surrounding reality.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
When the narrator wakes up the next day, calendars have disappeared. She isn’t too concerned about this disappearance—it feels like more of an inconvenience than anything else. As she puts her calendars in the neighborhood fire, she realizes how, when something burns, it’s like it loses all sense of what it once was. A neighbor, who used to make hats, begins talking to the narrator, saying how cold it’s been lately and how little food there seems to be at the market. All the people on the street commiserate about finding food. A woman with bad knees mentions how other neighbors, a young couple with no children, had recently been rude to her and seem not to want to engage with the neighborhood association.
There is something strangely communal about the moments after a disappearance, since everyone comes out onto the street to burn or throw away the item, and it is as though they connect briefly over the loss. However, this always seems fleeting, and when it is over, people are more isolated than before. It’s clear that the disappearances are having an economic impact on the island, since people are talking about food becoming more and more scarce.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator and her neighbors all continue to chat on street. One person wonders if spring will ever come back, and the woman with the bad knees says that it might not. She thinks that maybe the disappearance of calendars means the seasons will no longer change. Everyone is very anxious about the prospect of the cold staying, but the ex-hatmaker says that’s unlikely. Spring will come soon, and then summer. Calendars are just scraps of paper. However, the woman with the bad knees ends up being right, and spring never comes. The island remains buried in snow.
Again, though the neighbors briefly come together right after a disappearance, disappearances on the whole are pushing them further apart. Since they are now plunged into endless winter, they will be more isolated than ever before. It is meaningful that the island will stay buried in snow, since this is a turning point and the citizen’s collective numbness will only increase from here on out.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Quotes