The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 22  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The town never quite recovers from the earthquake and tsunami. Debris from homes pile up, and fresh snow covers them. Three days after the ordeal, on a walk near her office, the narrator sees the Inuis—or, more exactly, she sees a set of blue gloves that belonged to the young son. She is running an errand when she sees one of the Memory Police’s trucks. Poking out from behind the canvas of the truck is the same pair of gloves that she’d seen all that time ago in her basement. She’s heard that the Memory Police are rounding up people who were in hiding and whose safe houses were destroyed by the earthquake.
Snow covering the debris from the earthquake and tsunami symbolizes how the people of the island have become desensitized to tragedy. The Memory Police using a natural disaster to round up more people proves just how callous, cruel, and power-hungry they are. It’s devastating to know that the Inui family might not be safe, since it’s been so long since the story mentioned them, so it has been easy to assume they hid themselves well. However, the Inui family’s capture signals the novel’s commitment to showing tragic outcomes for people who try to hide from an authoritarian regime.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Quotes
After the earthquake, the old man moves into the narrator’s house. Though this seems like the most natural solution and the old man is used to spending time at the narrator’s home, he is oddly dejected. He does, however, enthusiastically help fix the damage caused by the quake. The old man’s scar from the cabinet doesn’t seem to be healing quickly, and the narrator tells him to take it easy, but the old man just waves her off.
The fact that the old man is not fully happy moving into the narrator’s home—even though he and the narrator are so close—highlights the extent to which he will miss his life on the ferry. This shows that he was perhaps more attached to the ferry than he thought, even though it was totally decrepit and “disappeared.” Despite this, the ferry itself seems to have represented a part of the old man’s identity.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
While the old man and the narrator are cleaning up the house, they encounter something in the basement. The narrator thinks that since the basement is already a mess, she’ll use this an excuse to clean up, but she can’t bring herself to throw away any of her mother’s things. One day, the old man finds the sculptures that Professor Inui gave the narrator, three of which have fallen and shattered. They find a plastic bag with white tablets; a yellowed, folded piece of paper; and a metal square with holes on one side hidden in the sculptures. They don’t know what these mysterious, humble items are, only that they are objects that have been disappeared.
The narrator is too moved by the memories of her mother in the basement to throw anything away, which shows how people on the island must cling to whatever memories they still have. When the old man and the narrator come across strange, disappeared objects that were hidden inside the sculptures, it is a reminder that the narrator’s mother fought against disappearances and believed that she could resist what other people accepted as inevitable.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Later that night, the narrator is upstairs in the secret room with R and the items. R guesses that the narrator’s mother hid the objects inside the sculptures after she received the summons from the Memory Police but before she went away. He identifies one of the things as a ferry ticket. R gently tries to see if the narrator has any memories associated with the ticket. She says that she has one memory: she remembers her mother, in the basement, sculpting among pieces of wood and stone and plaster. She thinks that she touched the ticket before it went inside the sculpture that night.
Again, the fact that the narrator’s mother hid illegal, disappeared items in her sculptures shows that she felt she could resist disappearances, even if other people thought that was useless. However, it’s noteworthy that the narrator’s memory of the ferry ticket has nothing to do with ferries and only with seeing her mother store the ticket inside the sculpture—this shows how removed the piece of paper is from the function it used to have.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
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The narrator is out of breath after recounting this memory in full. R insists that the narrator has done very well, that this is a good start to wake up her “sleeping soul.” But the narrator says that her soul is not sleeping—it is gone.
It is impressive that the narrator can bring up any memories associated with something disappeared. But the conversation between R and the narrator is the embodiment of the issue of fate versus free will on the island—is it possible to wake up the narrator’s soul (is it only “sleeping”)? Or is that part of her gone, like the narrator suggests, and is fighting to bring it back is pointless?
Themes
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Next, R picks up the metal object and brings it to his mouth. The narrator thinks that it looks like a chocolate bar, and that he’ll eat it. But he blows on it instead, and it makes a peculiar, full sound. He tells her that this is a harmonica. She loves the unfamiliar word. He hands it to her and, though she says she can’t play it, she puts it to her lips and makes a sound. As R takes it back and plays some songs with the harmonica, the narrator begins to remember music lessons she took as a child.
The narrator’s misinterpretation of what R is going to do with the harmonica is a reference to the first chapter, when the narrator was a young girl in her mother’s studio and tried to drink perfume out of the bottle because she didn’t know what it was. R and the narrator strengthen their connection by playing music together with this lost object. It is noteworthy that even though she doesn’t recognize the harmonica, the narrator recognizes some of the songs that R plays, which shows how memory is still an important, meaningful part of her life even if she feels like she has no control over when memories come or go.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Every now and then, R asks the narrator to play a song so that he can be the audience. She is able to play songs that sound like ones she heard as a child, and R applauds. When they both finish playing all the songs they know, R moves on to the third object. The little white pills are called ramune, R tells the narrator. It is a lemon-flavored candy. He’s impressed the narrator’s mother was interested in saving such an ordinary item. They each eat one, savoring the flavor.
The narrator and R continue to grow closer over their connection to the harmonica and music. When R realizes that the narrator’s mother saved such an ordinary object as candy, he commends her for it—this shows that R’s way of thinking is similar to the how the narrator’s mother thought, and that they both believed memories, even of something trivial, are too precious to throw away.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
After going over the objects, R and the narrator lay together on the tiny bed in the hidden room. R shares all the memories he has that are associated with the ferry, with the harmonica, and with ramune. He is able to talk without stopping or feeling winded. Usually, the narrator is exhausted when she hears memories about disappeared items, but tonight it feels like she is back in her mother’s studio, listening to her mother tell her secret stories. She is content listening to everything R says.
It feels as though something might be changing in the narrator, since she listens to R talk about his memories without feeling tired. She realizes that she’s able to do this because of the stories her mother told her, which proves that storytelling is a way of memory-keeping and may be the only way to resist forgetting. Memories and stories are also clearly a way for two people to grow close, as R and the narrator have, since sharing memories is like sharing a part of oneself.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon