The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 23  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next Sunday, the narrator decides she’ll visit her mother’s old cabin, where her mother used to go to sculpt. It’s nothing fancy, and it’s possible that it was destroyed in the earthquake—nevertheless, she and the old man pack a lunch and leave that morning. They take a train down the mountain, walk along the river, and find the cabin by noon.
After the positive experience finding the harmonica and the other items in the basement, the narrator seems willing to make an effort to try and remember. The fact that she wants to go to her mother’s cabin shows that she might believe she can fight against forgetting if she finds enough disappeared objects.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The cabin is hardly standing up—the roof is caved in, and the chimney is gone. Mushrooms grow on the moss covering the walls. The old man and the narrator take a brief rest (the Memory Police will know if they are out late), then set to work pulling back boards to be able to enter the cabin.
It's telling that a trip to the cabin could set off alarm bells for the Memory Police—this shows how mighty their authority is.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Once inside, the narrator and the old man see sculpting tools strewn all over the floor. A beam fell through the room, so they move with caution. The narrator shrieks as she sees something soft and slimy on a table—the old man says it is likely a dead cat that came into the cabin to die. The two say a prayer for the animal then try to pretend it is not there as they continue moving around the room. The pair is able to tell relatively easily which sculptures might be hiding something inside of them—these sculptures appear more abstract. The pair fill their bags with as many sculptures as they can fit.
The dead cat and the caved-in ceiling show how long it has been since anyone has set foot inside this cabin. Again, it’s impressive that the narrator chose to come to this cabin, considering the risks she and the old man are taking, but this proves that she wants to find more objects to help her remember things. It’s also impressive that the narrator’s mother was clever and forward-thinking enough to stash the disappeared items in her sculptures, which demonstrates again the narrator’s mother’s hope that people could regain their memories.
Themes
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
When they return to the train station, the narrator and the old man realize that everyone there is very anxious. The old man figures out that the Memory Police are checking people’s bags. He quietly tells the narrator that they must remain calm and get to the back of the line. The old man comments that the Memory Police have been doing these checks a lot lately, and that many people are leaving the town to head for the country, where they think it might be safer. He then realizes that they are mostly checking paperwork—still, the two are worried, because they have out-of-the-ordinary items on their suitcases.
The fact that the Memory Police are checking bags proves that the trip to the cabin was very dangerous, because the narrator and the old man will be in serious trouble if the Memory Police find the disappeared items in their bags.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
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Suddenly, a man in line—carrying an unusually large array of food—loudly asks how much longer this will take. He says that he is the person who supplies the dining hall at the Memory Police headquarters, and he starts flashing his paperwork to the guards. If he’s late, he’ll have to take the blame. Just after he speaks, a young woman in line faints, and her mother cries out that she is anemic. The old man immediately gathers the girl in her arms. In all of this chaos, the other passengers form a mass, and the guards end up letting everyone through with just a glance at their papers. The old man and the narrator make it onto the train back to town with their bags.
It is simply a stroke of luck that allows the narrator and the old man to get onto the train, which shows that who lives and who dies under authoritarian regimes is sometimes a matter of luck. The fact that the man in line is carrying lots of food also shows how the Memory Police are hoarding resources—another way for them to exact power over the people of the island. The old man shows his bravery and his kindness by immediately tending to the young woman who fainted.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
By the time they make it back to the house, the old man and the narrator are too exhausted to go through the contents of their bags. As they eat dinner that night, the narrator notices that the old man’s motor skills are off, and that his lips are slightly blue. She asks him if he is alright, and he says he is fine, just tired. She rubs his shoulders the same way he always did to comfort her.
The narrator and the old man share a tender moment of connection, because she comforts him the same way that she remembers him comforting her when she was small. However, it is not a good sign that the old man seems to be having difficulty moving or that his lips turn blue.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon