The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 20  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Soon, just as the old man said she would, the narrator finds another job as a typist for a trading company. Something about the word “typist” stirs the narrator, but she can’t figure out what it is. The narrator begins a new routine where she works outside of the house for 10 hours a day. At first, this makes her nervous, and she imagines the worst happening while she’s gone, but she soon gets used to her new schedule.
The fact that the narrator gets a new job and starts a new routine after the devastating loss of novels shows how life must go on even if the world is falling apart. The narrator is getting good at becoming accustomed to things, which again can be seen as a useful coping mechanism but also as a numbing of the spirt and soul. The narrator’s dull recognition of the word “typist” shows that she has some, but not much, of her old self left.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Later, when the narrator reads her manuscript that she keeps in R’s room, she remembers why the word “typist” meant something to her. But though she is capable of reading the words on the page, she can’t understand them as part of any “coherent story” with “a plot to connect them.” On Friday and Saturday nights, she sits at her desk with the pages of the manuscript and tries to read them. But this is such a daunting task that she can usually only get through five or six pages. Eventually, even seeing lines on a page starts to make her dizzy. She tries writing something new, since she can’t add to her current story, but this also proves impossible.
The narrator’s difficulty with writing again shows that she has dissociated with a big part of what used to be her identity. Her attempts to work on her manuscript are admirable, though it’s disheartening to watch her get exhausted, and this ultimately hints that she may never be her full self again.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
R encourages the narrator not to force the memories to return, but rather to slowly “untangle” them. She insists that it is useless. He tells her that’s not true, that she’s the same person who used to write full novels. He says that only the paper has disappeared, not the stories. She starts telling him about all of the burning fires that night, and her flashes of memories of a “hat” and a “bird.” When she finishes, R is contemplative and admits that so much must have changed since he was last outside the secret room.
R's conviction to help the narrator regain her ability to write shows that he’s become a much different person than the aloof editor he once was outside the secret room. He seems to be even more himself these days, while the narrator is deteriorating. His passionate optimism is tapered, though, when the narrator tells him about all the fires on the night the town burned their books. He realizes that he might not recognize the world outside if he ever rejoins it.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Later, the old man asks the narrator if doing something she’s not used to doing is tiring. She replies that she’s enjoying the office work. The pair sit on the old ferry and share tea and breakfast for the first time in a while, and they enjoy chatting and playing with Don. After a little while, the old man goes and gets the music box, and they sit and listen attentively. But the narrator does not believe that the music will be able to fix the “exhaustion” that is “taking over her soul.”
Again, the narrator and the old man bond over their shared sense of loss. Even though it is sad that they both feel an overwhelming “exhaustion” and futility from the situation, it is good that they have each other to connect to. However, it's not a good sign that the narrator feels her soul is “taken over” by fatigue, because it means she may not try to regain any of her memories if she becomes too tired.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Quotes
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The old man asks the narrator how her novel writing is going, although it is difficult for him to say the word. She says not well. The old man admits that although he appreciates how precious a gift the music box was, it fills him with a certain emptiness every time he listens to it. The narrator agrees that seeing a fresh sheet of paper on her desk gives her a similar feeling. She can’t even believe she thought to write a story about a typist—she’d never been a typist or known a typist. The old man supposes anyone can just make anything up in a novel. People can create things that don’t exist, just with words—that’s why R insists they’re so important.
Again, the narrator and the old man are able to connect over the fact that they have experienced terrible loss. The narrator’s alienation from novels seems pretty complete here, since she can’t even believe she made up a character who had a different job than her. The old man is impressed by the idea of novels, even if he can’t really remember them. There is something intentionally meta about this conversation, too, since the novel is referencing the magic (and importance) of storytelling while simultaneously telling a story itself.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The old man then asks the narrator if she is in love with R. She says she supposes she is. But, she says, she knows he’ll never be able to come out of hiding—if he did, he’d dissolve into pieces. His soul is too heavy at this point. The old man says he understands. Suddenly, there is a terrible noise, and the boat begins to rock. Everything in the room starts crashing down around them. The old man shouts, “earthquake!”
It's significant that the narrator finally says she’s in love with R, since this proves how closely she connects with and values him. However, it’s sad that the narrator thinks he’ll never be able to leave the room—this shows that she and R, who has been optimistic lately, have very different outlooks. The sudden earthquake during a conversation about love shows how unpredictable the world is, and how all the characters have to balance interpersonal problems with larger societal and environmental disasters.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon