The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 25  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That night, the narrator gets a call from the hospital saying that the old man collapsed. She runs all the way to the hospital, but the old man is already gone—the hospital staff tell the narrator that they did all they could, but his heart stopped. The old man had an intracranial hemorrhage, and the narrator realizes that it must have been from the cabinet the day of the earthquake. The narrator looks at his hands, folded across his chest, which will never again make anything. She is in shock. The old man’s bag of groceries is there in the hospital.
The narrator’s shock to the old man’s death proves that she can still feel something after a loss. However, this isn’t exactly a hopeful moment in the story, since the narrator is now more alone than ever.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
R, of course, is unable to attend the old man’s funeral. The narrator finds that the old man’s death unnerves her. Unlike the deaths of her parents and nurse, which were sad but had softened with time, the old man’s death leaves the narrator feeling terribly anxious. She is now alone—R can sympathize with her, but he is locked away. Anyway, he does not have the same “void” in his heart as she does, whereas the old man did.
The narrator grieving the old man in this particular way shows that she connected with him over their shared losses. Even though every disappearance makes her more and more isolated from the person she once was, she clearly took some solace in the fact that she and the old man were both impacted in the same ways. R’s ability to remember things makes him much different than the narrator, she believes, so she feels especially isolated now that the old man is gone.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator tries to keep it together by cooking elaborate meals for herself and R and by focusing hard at work. She takes to tasks around the house with gusto. Still, when she gets into bed, she is overcome by fatigue and anxiety. Unable to sleep, she stays up at night, staring at some of the disappeared objects and waiting to see if they change anything in her.
Again, the narrator feels deep anxiety because the one person who understood what she was going through is gone. That she tries to remember by staring at the objects shows that she deeply wants to connect with R by retrieving disappeared memories.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
One night, the narrator is moved to write a few words on the pages of her manuscript on her desk. This has not happened since novels disappeared. She holds the pencil awkwardly, and her handwriting is messy, but she writes a full sentence. It exhausts her. The next day, she shows it to R, who is thrilled. He tells her that this is progress— “her soul is trying to bring back the things lost in the disappearances.” Night after night, she starts stringing together sentences—certainly not a story, but full lines, nonetheless. R continues encouraging her.
The narrator deeply wants to feel connected to R (and to her old self) by writing, but she can’t seem to see the point. R’s constant encouragement is kind and shows his true affection for the narrator, but it's unclear if it actually has any tangible effect on her ability to recapture the person she once was.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Quotes
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Later, the first disappearance since the old man’s death happens. The narrator wakes up and tries to think what it could be this time. She can’t quite figure it out, but since she doesn’t see many people outside of her window, she thinks it may not be something that important. When she moves to take her covers off, she sees that something strange is stuck to her hip. Baffled, she tries to move and twist the thing off, but it won’t move. She decides to get dressed. She swings her right leg to the floor, and the protrusion from her hip also hits the ground with a thud. The force knocks her onto the floor.
The story takes its time unraveling what this next disappearance might be, and this suspense ultimately hints that it something substantial has vanished. The way that the narrator describes the strange thing she sees on her body recalls the clinical way she described birds in the beginning of the story.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator crawls to her dresser and takes out some clothes. When she goes to put on her pants, she sees that there are two openings. After she puts her right leg through one, she is perplexed about what to do next. She suddenly notices that the thing affixed to her body is exactly the same size as the second hole in her pants, so she decides it can’t hurt to slide it into the opening. After she does this, it hits her at last: it is her left leg that is now disappeared.
In this scene, the novel depicts the strange sense of disorientation that the narrator feels upon looking at her own left leg. The narrator observes her own leg in the same detached way she would usually use to describe everyday objects that are unfamiliar to her. This moment marks a true turning point, since the loss of a body part is so personal and significant.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator manages to drag herself downstairs and outside. Her neighbors are slowly gathering, wondering how they will deal with this disappearance. Some people are dumbfounded, but others say that this is how it is—it’s just the same as any other disappearance. An old woman makes a joke about losing half of the arthritis in her knees.
The townspeople are worried, but it is notable how quickly some of them become resigned to their fate. This signifies that there is truly a lack of resistance to the disappearances. While it’s admirable that people would try to make the best of a bad situation, it also seems like they are overly passive about the condition of their island and their lives.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
As the townspeople wonder how they will get rid of their left legs, the Memory Police suddenly come around the corner. Unlike the townspeople, they appear to be walking with perfect balance, as though they’ve been training for this to happen. The people on the street decide they won’t have to physically remove their disappeared legs, since the Memory Police still have theirs. They suggest the leg might one day fall off on its own, like the leaves of a tree.
It’s remarkable that the Memory Police are still able to walk upright, which means that they must have predicted the loss of a body part and put their resources into preparing themselves. This shows the huge discrepancy between how much the Memory Police have and how little the rest of the people on the island live, again showing that authoritarian governments tend to hoard important resources while making the general population suffer.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Later that night, R massages the narrator’s disappeared leg. He tries to show her that her leg is still there, but the narrator hardly feels his hands. She feels like a new “cavity” exists in her body. R says he imagines the outside world must be so different than he remembers, but the narrator simply says that the changes aren’t as big as he thinks, and people are able to accept them with little fuss.
The distance between the narrator and R is growing, even as R is more physically affectionate than ever. They can’t seem to agree on whether or not the narrator’s leg exists, which opens up a hole in their relationship and isolates them from each other. The narrator also seems to have the same passive attitude as the rest of the people in the town, and the fact that she denies that the world looks different than when R first went into the room shows that she’s losing her perspective.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator and R keep talking. She tells R that soon everything will “fall back into place,” meaning that in no time, a new hole will open up in her heart and mind—a hole where the idea of a left leg used to be. R bends down to kiss the narrator’s leg, and she thinks how nice it would be if she still had flesh there to be able to feel his lips kissing her. Instead, she registers only a dull pressure.
The narrator now sounds just like the old man, which shows that she’s given herself over to the fate of disappearing. There’s something particularly sad about the fact that the person she loves is kissing her and she can’t even register his lips.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon