The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 21  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Don hides under the old man’s couch, trembling. The narrator searches for the old man among the debris and finds him underneath a fallen dish cabinet, his face bloody. The narrator tries lifting the cabinet, but it won’t move. The old man tells her to leave him and get out quickly, because a tsunami will surely follow the earthquake. But the narrator will not leave. She figures out a way to life the heavy cabinet while the old man crawls out, inch by inch. The boat shifts beneath them. The narrator bleeds from her hands but keeps holding the cabinet. The old man at last struggles out from under the cabinet, and he, the narrator, and Don flee the ship.
In this time of crisis, the narrator does not leave the old man, proving that the unfavorable circumstances have not yet fully diminished her as a person. She and the old man have a very important and strong connection, and the narrator saving his life underscores how she cares for him.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The narrator and the old man make it safely off the ferry and keep running until they reach the ruins of the library. The old man says he is fine, but the narrator worries about the blood coming from his ear. They hear a rumbling, and a huge wave starts heading for land. The sea smashes up the houses on the coastline and covers the boat. When the wave is gone, Don howls, and this seems to set the world back into motion.
The sudden threat of the earthquake and tsunami prove that not every threat to survival is man-made. The characters are accustomed to hiding from the Memory Police, but the earthquake reminds them that there are indeed forces beyond the Memory Police’s control.
Themes
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
When the narrator and the old man turn to look at each other, they realize that they are in bad shape: their clothes are torn, there’s dust in their hair, and the old man has lost both of his shoes. Somehow, though, he is holding the music box, which is unscathed. The narrator asks him why he brought it, but the old man doesn’t know—he must have unconsciously put it in his pocket without realizing. The ship is completely destroyed, along with anything the old man had onboard.
It's very meaningful that the old man rescued the music box, since it shows that, even though it doesn’t help him get his memories back, he still somehow understands the object’s significance.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The neighborhood is damaged from the tsunami—the buildings are crumbled, and there are fires burning. It starts to snow as emergency vehicles and the Memory Police’s trucks drive through the town. The old man and the narrator hurry to the narrator’s house, which appears fine from the outside but is damaged on the inside. They rush to the office and try to life the trap door, but they cannot.
Again, the sudden earthquake and tsunami show how environmental disasters can still take place in the midst of war or social collapse—the world, in other words, goes on. The narrator and the old man thus have to worry about hiding from the Memory Police while also minding the physical safety of R after the quake.
Themes
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
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The old man calls down to R, who knocks from his side and says he’s there. Even with R pushing and the old man pulling, the door won’t move—the tsunami must have warped it, says R, whose voice sounds faint and distant. R says that the ventilation is not working and that the electricity is out. The narrator panics, saying that if they can’t get him out, he could starve to death. She tells him that they’ll find a way to get it open.
R, the narrator, and the old man having to deal with such unpredictable circumstances ultimately accentuates the challenges that currently govern their lives. But their dedication to each other through this trauma shows how much they care for each other and how close a unit the three have become.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The narrator goes across the street to get tools, and the old man is able to pry the trapdoor open. The narrator borrowed the tools from the ex-hatmaker. He’d offered to come help, so she had to lie to him, telling him that the old man had broken out in a rash and was too proud to see anyone else. With the door open, the old man and the narrator rush down to check on R, whose hair is covered in splinters. In the secret room, in the darkness and among the rubble of R’s things scattered on the floor, the three hold hands and stare at one another. They feel like this is the only way to assure themselves they’d all survived.
Again, the group shows how close they’ve gotten since R first move in by holding each other. However, the fact that the narrator had to lie about borrowing tools from the neighbor shows that this society has pushed people into self-contained units, afraid of anyone besides the people closest to them.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon