The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 24  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two weeks later, the old man seems like himself again. He, the narrator, and R have still not gone through all of the statues. R waits impatiently to do so, as though he is “waiting to meet old friends he has not heard from in decades.” The narrator and the old man, though, know that the contents of the sculptures will not “thaw” their hearts, no matter how hard R tries to make it so. Their top concerns are what they’ll have for their next dinner and when the Memory Police will come back.
It is significant that R feels as though the hidden objects in the statues are “old friends”—this highlights how important memories can be to someone’s identity. But something seems to have shifted in the narrator and the old man since their brave trip to the cabin: they are much more dejected, as though their interaction with the Memory Police at the station took away their hope. It's also noteworthy that they feel like they need to focus on everyday things (like meals) instead of trying to regain their memories, which reveals how difficult it is for people in unstable political situations to think about the future.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Still, the following Sunday, the narrator and the old man bring the sculptures to the basement and begin taking them apart. They first tap the figures gently with hammer. Once broken apart, that see that each stature has one item inside. The old man and the narrator are disoriented, since they don’t know how fragile the objects are or how they should be handled. The narrator realizes that her mother must hidden many, many items, because there are more things than there had been in the chest of drawers. Some objects provoke a slight recollection, but that is it. None of the items disturb the “swamp” of the narrator’s memory.
The narrator thinking of her memory as a “swamp” shows that she’s losing hope of regaining her memories. A swamp is still and muddy, and so it’s clear she thinks of her mind as foggy and inactive. It is noteworthy again that the narrator’s mother went to such impressive lengths to hide disappeared objects and that she kept many more than even the narrator knew about. However, it’s starting to become unclear whether or not this will have any positive impact on the narrator.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
When they finish extracting the objects, the narrator and the old man take the items to R on a tray. R is exuberant upon seeing so many disappeared things, and he immediately starts spurting out all of the memories that they bring up for him. The narrator and the old man watch him speak. When the narrator finally says she’s happy that the items please him so much, R insists that they’re not for him but for the two of them, to try to change their hearts and minds.
It is a sweet moment when R sees the disappeared items. They bring back so many exciting memories, illustrating how deeply memory and emotion are connected. However, the narrator and the old man have no connection to the items (the narrator is only happy that R is happy), and this only highlights the growing differences between the rejuvenated R and the other two.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
R says that everyone’s hearts have been “battered” by the disappearances. He makes an impassioned plea—holding up the narrator’s manuscript—about how the narrator and the old man still have hearts that are sitting right next to him. Since the two of them rescued him, he must rescue them in return. The narrator quietly asks what will happen if everything on the island disappears. She realizes that this is many people’s ultimate fear, and R and the old man are stunned into silence at first. But R then says that even if the whole island is gone, the room will still be there. His voice is filled with love.
R is clearly very impacted by seeing the lost objects, which shows again the link between memory, emotion, and connection. He is more determined than ever to rescue the narrator and the old man. His suggestion that their hearts have been “battered” admits that they have suffered but also that it might be possible to heal. However, the narrator seems to be more and more hopeless, since she’s unable to stop thinking about everything on the island disappearing.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
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Weeks go by, and the narrator’s typing skills improve. The old man gives R a much-needed haircut, and Don the dog has a health scare but recovers. Things are relatively calm. One day, the narrator bumps into the old man coming back from the market with groceries. They sit on the hill overlooking the sea, looking at the half-sunken ferry still not entirely gone from the day of the earthquake. They chat, and the old man thanks the narrator again for saving his life that day.
The story listing little things that happen—like a haircut or a trip to the vet—show how everyday life must go on even when circumstances are incredibly difficult. The old man shows again how kind he is by thanking the narrator for saving his life.
Themes
The narrator and the old man keep talking. She thinks how his hands, which she’s known since she was a little girl, are so reassuring and can make just about anything. The narrator suggests that they walk home before the sun sets, but the old man says he’ll stay a little longer and make a quick stop on the way home. The narrator remembers the ramune, which she’s saved, and hands it to the old man, telling him what it is. She gives him the rest of the candies that she has in her pocket, and he thanks her, bowing. They part, saying they’ll see each other at home. The narrator never sees the old man alive again.
The simple act of giving the old man a piece of candy is made all the more important because that piece of candy is a lost object that shows how everyday interactions take on extra importance when society is crumbling. The ease and stillness of this moment and this night is directly contrasted by the end of the chapter, which gestures toward the old man’s death. This demonstrates life’s uncertainty and the fact that disappearance actually occurs naturally, since everyone eventually dies and leaves the world behind.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon