The Memory Police


Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 3  Summary & Analysis

The narrator’s profession is writing. She has published three novels. Each book is about something that has been disappeared, because “everyone likes that sort of thing.” However, she admits that on the island, writing—and books—aren’t particularly appreciated, so libraries and books are often in poor condition. She believes that few people on the island have a need for novels.
The narrator being a professional writer again emphasizes how the novel values storytelling. However, it’s disheartening if people on the island don’t have much need for books or storytelling, because it might mean that they are not interested in this important way of connecting to other people.
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The narrator’s writing routine involves staying up late, working in her father’s old office. She often takes walks at night, along a coastal road. There is a ferry tied to a dock she passes, but no one has used it in years, and it is completely covered with rust. The name of the boat is no longer visible. The narrator always stops on this walk to talk to an old man, her old nurse’s husband, who used to work on the boat before it was disappeared. He’d briefly found other work but then retired, and he now lives on the abandoned ferry.
This scene shows a strange component to the disappearances—even when something physically still exists, like the ferry, people’s memories are so contorted that they will not use these things. The old man still living on the ferry, despite losing all or most of his memories surrounding it, suggests that there is still some connection to the ferry even though it is hard to pin down or describe. This shows the difficulty people have of forgetting about the disappeared objects entirely.
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The old man always asks how the narrator’s next novel is coming along, to which she replies “slowly.” Her work as a writer impresses him—he says that her parents would be so proud of her, but he also admits that he’s never read one of her books. If he were to read one of her books, then it would be over, which would be “wasteful”—but unread, it is kept safe. The two often share a snack and talk about old memories, but these conversations are increasingly difficult as more and more things disappear from the island.
The old man and the narrator will share many conversations like this throughout the novel, and they are meaningful because they show the bond the two have with each other. The talks also expose key components of the narrator and the old man’s personalities. Here, it is important that the old man hasn’t actually read any of the narrator’s books—this means that he has different interests, and he see the world differently than the narrator. This will happen over the course of the novel, as the narrator asks questions about disappearances and the old man seems certain that they are simply fate. However, these differences do not prevent the narrator and the old man from becoming very close friends.
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
When the sun starts to go down, the narrator says goodbye and leaves the ferry and the old man. On the way home, she likes to walk by the observatory, even though the Memory Police have “done their work” there and left it in ruins. As the narrator makes her way home, she thinks how quiet the island gets in the evening. At this point, the people of the island live mostly with their heads down, just waiting for the next disappearance. 
The destroyed observatory being evidence that the Memory Police have “done their work” emphasizes how their primary job is to destroy, making them an oppressive force. The fact that people live in anticipation of the next disappearance shows how much this force has taken over their lives, and how they feel helpless to do anything other than wait for the next disappearance.
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
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