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 2  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Years pass. The narrator’s mother and father have died. The narrator mentions that she might have family living on the other side of the mountains from her, but she has no way of knowing where, since maps, too, are “disappeared.”
The narrator’s sudden isolation at the beginning of Chapter 2 shows that she is a lonely character. The fact that, had maps not disappeared, she may have been able to find other family members emphasizes the sense of isolation that disappearances make people feel.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator thinks of her father, who was an ornithologist. He spent his time collecting data and photographing birds, and the narrator, when she was young, loved to visit him while he worked. His coworkers would spoil her. She’d sit on her father’s lap, look through his binoculars, and study the birds (which she calls “creatures”). In these intimate father-daughter moments, the narrator always wanted to ask him whether he knew about her mother’s secret chest of drawers, but she’d stop herself. She is relieved that birds were not disappeared until after her father died.
The narrator shows a clear fondness for her father and has meaningful memories of her time with him. However, she lacks the ability to say birds, always calling them “creatures,” showing that disappearances have greatly affected her in her adult life—unlike her mother, who was able to resist them. This moment also introduces birds as a symbol for memories of a loved one that disappear over time—rather than just saying that this happens, the story uses birds as an embodiment of that phenomenon.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Quotes
The narrator explains that most people are able to quickly move to another profession when a thing disappears that effects their work (though she doesn’t think her father would have been able to do this). She marvels at how most people—and she notes that she’s not an exception—are “capable” of forgetting just about anything, as though their island could float in an “expanse of totally empty sea.”
The narrator’s belief that most people are “capable” of forgetting just about anything shows how many people on the island can passively accept the disappearances, even if they uproot their lives in a meaningful way. Yet it is significant that she thinks her father would not have been able to move on from his job as an ornithologist, suggesting he was incredibly dedicated. The image of the island floating in “an expanse of totally empty sea” is a metaphor for the way that the disappearances isolate the people on the island from the rest of the world and from each other.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator remembers the morning birds were disappeared. In the memory, she wakes up with the familiar, strange feeling that disappearances give her. She checks the items around her room and then goes out into the garden. There, she sees a small, brown, flying thing, and realizes that all of her knowledge about these creatures is gone, though birds themselves will continue to technically exist until they are somehow disposed of by the Memory Police. A neighbor confirms her intuition that it is birds that have disappeared—good riddance, he says, but then feels guilty when he sees the narrator and remembers her late father’s profession. All sense of connection is gone for the narrator as she watches the bird. It is now “nothing more than a simple creature.”
This scene is an important first description of the strange, mysterious ways that disappearances work on the island and in the story. The simplicity of disappearances (nothing dramatic happens, people just wake up and know something is gone) suggests that “disappearances” in the novel are a metaphor for slowly forgetting something that happens (less mysteriously but just as consequentially) in real life. The narrator’s clinical description of birds as “nothing more” than “simple creatures” shows how effective disappearances are, since she only registers the bird as an object.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Get the entire The Memory Police LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Memory Police PDF
The day after the birds’ disappearance, there’s an unexpected, violent ring on the narrator’s doorbell. The Memory Police—the feared arm of the state that enforces “disappearances”—are at her home, and they demand to be taken to the narrator’s father’s old office. She reminds them that her father died five years ago, but they don’t care. They are rude, dismissive, and forceful, barging into her home without removing their shoes.
This is the first scene with the Memory Police, and it is important that it comes right after something sad—like the disappearance of birds—has happened. This shows that the Memory Police aren’t concerned with empathy—they don’t try to sympathize with the narrator, since they only have one job to do. The detail of not removing their shoes to come into the narrator’s home confirms their disrespect for the civilians on the island.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The Memory Police then storm into the narrator’s father’s office, seeming to know exactly how to get through the house. They brusquely go through all of her father’s old papers, tossing everything out from the drawers that haven’t been touched in years onto the floor, making a mess. They search for anything having to do with birds. They even go through a drawer that only contains family photos—mercifully, they put these photos back after they look through them, but that is the “only kindness” they show her that day.
The fact that the Memory Police know just how to get through the house shows that it’s possible they have surveillance capacities. Their disrespect for the narrator’s father’s things again highlights their total lack of empathy or sympathy. A simple act—putting the photographs back in the drawers—being the “only kindness” the Memory Police show to the narrator solidifies their willingness to be excessively cruel most of the time.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
After an hour, the Memory Police leave with 10 bags full of the narrator’s father’s old papers. She feels like this experience is different than when her mother was taken away—this time, they’ve taken everything they need and will likely not be back. The narrator stands in her father’s old office and feels how empty it now is—all traces of her father, which she’d tried too hard to hold onto, are gone. She feels like she might be swallowed up by the emptiness of the room.
The Memory Police storming the narrator’s father’s office only one day after birds disappear show how committed they are to enforcing disappearances. That they take 10 bags shows that the father had many papers about birds—he must have been a thorough researcher, as the narrator has already suggested. The narrator comparing this moment to the time her mother was taken away hints that something bad must have happened to her mother at the hands of the Memory Police. The narrator is devastated that her father’s papers are gone, which shows how much his research connected him to her.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon