The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 18  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The woman wonders how long she’s been stuck in the room with the clock. In the beginning, she made marks on the leg of a chair with her fingernail to count the days, but now she’s lost track. She supposes that, stuck in the room, surrounded by “voices of the dead,” it would not do her much good to know the day or date.
The narrator’s manuscript really takes a turn for the worse. The fact that this section comes right after the Memory Police’s raid on the narrator’s home shows that this raid might have made her a lot less hopeful. There is also a reference to the narrator’s real life: the woman thinks it’s no use knowing the day or date, which is a callback to the fact that calendars have “disappeared” in the larger narrative.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The woman sometimes climbs on top of a sink in the room to open the window and stare outside. She notices that the clocktower is the tallest building in the town, so above her she sees only sky. She also finds that there’s a small drawer in the room with trinkets: an empty box of chocolates, a glasses case, some thumbtacks. These aren’t as good as a hammer to break through the door, but that they “add a little flavor” to her “life of captivity.”
This scene foreshadows something that will happen in the larger narrative, where everyday objects make a different character feel like their “life of captivity” has been given some “flavor.” The woman is very much still locked in the room, with no way of escaping, suggesting that the narrator is increasingly consumed with ideas of isolation and confinement.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
At one point, the typing teacher brought up a folding sofa bed. When he brought it up the stairs, it was the first time the woman had ever seen his appearance out of his control. His clothes, hair, and voice are all typically “subject to his will,” but that day he was visibly tired, and she saw the sweat on his brow. She thinks that it was probably worth it for him, though, since he does “all sorts of things to her” on the bed.
This moment in the manuscript is disturbing, since the typing teacher starts abusing the woman, who is unable to fight back. It’s possible that the narrator sees the force that she’s unable to fight against—the Memory Police—as a stand-in for the typing teacher. But it’s also possible that the typing teacher represents the disappearances—a force that makes things vanish and isolates people from each other.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The ringing belltower still frightens the woman, and she “cowers” on the other side of the room when she knows the clock is going to ring. She feels as though the typewriters are all crying out together when the bell rings. She realizes that she can no longer tell which typewriter had once been hers, and that she can no longer remember the sound of her own voice.
The woman experiences severe and traumatic solation because of the loss of her voice, which mirrors how the narrator feels a growing isolation to the world outside her in the larger narrative.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
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The typing teacher brings the woman her meals. He never eats with her, but he watches her eat. She is afraid of leaving any food leftover. At night, he takes her clothes off and makes her stand in the center of the room. He brings hot water in a bucket and washes her with the same intensity as he polished his stopwatch. He takes a long time washing her, attending to every body part. When he’s finished, he dresses her in very odd clothes, handmade from materials like vinyl, paper, or fruit peels. They hardly fit. She has a horrible realization one day: that his hands must have been beautiful while he was making the clothes.
Again, the typing teacher abuses the woman who is (or certainly feels) powerless to stop him. Her attraction to his hands might represent some sort of Stockholm syndrome, where a kidnapped person develops a form of love or affection for their captor. The typing teacher seems to have complete control over the woman, to the point where she is even fearful to leave food on her plate, showing the fear that the narrator feels every day under the threat of the Memory Police.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The woman continues to deteriorate locked in the room, though not being able to speak irks her more than not being able to leave. Every now and then, the typist asks her if she wants to speak and stares at her coldly, daring her to nod. She always shakes her head no. She thinks how she’s feeling “distant from her soul.” She’s disassociating from her body and can only watch while the typing teacher plays with it.
The woman feeling “distant from her soul” is a direct link to how the narrator feels about her growing dissociation from the person she once was.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
One day, the woman hears voices from the open window and sees the teacher on the ground laughing and talking to some students. She hears what he’s saying but can’t make out the students’ responses. After a little while, she realizes that it’s not that she can’t hear what the students are saying, but that she can’t understand their words. She realizes that she can only understand the man’s voice. She thinks that even if she were to escape from the tower, it would be too late—if she left the room, her body would “dissolve into a million pieces.” From now on, she can only wait every night for the sound of the man climbing up the stairs to her.
It's telling that the woman can only hear and understand the teacher’s voice—this represents how many people on the island are only able to see the Memory Police’s point of view. The woman’s belief that it would be no use fighting back or trying to escape mirrors the growing feeling on the island that people do not have any power over their fate anymore.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
A little while after the Memory Police’s raid on her house, the reality of what happened that night sinks in for the narrator. She has not been down to the secret room since that night—she leaves R his food at the top of the ladder. She seems to have given up any hope that one day he will be able to leave the secret room. R, too, appears more dejected, smiling rarely and not finishing his food. The narrator thinks how the events of that night feel like a distant reality. When she and R had sex that night, it had been the only way for them to protect themselves. Or so she tells herself, to “comfort” herself.
The narrator’s mental state deteriorates a bit after the raid and after she and R become intimate for the first time. Their relationship stalls, which may be because R feels guilty about cheating on his wife. The narrator feels guilty, too, which is why she tells herself that it was necessary—almost like a survival tactic.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator sits in the study and finishes writing for the day. She picks up her side of the intercom connected to the secret room and listens to R washing himself. She can almost visualize the scene in the room below her just by hearing the sounds. She looks at the pages of her manuscript and thinks that they are the only “ticket” she has “for admittance” to the secret room these days. She again listens to R washing himself in a basin of water.
The narrator and R’s relationship suffers a bit after they have sex, and she feels nervous to approach him unless she is bringing him her manuscript. This shows how stories and an appreciation for books are one of the most important links that R and the narrator have to each other.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon