The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The Memory Police: Chapter 5  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The end of autumn arrives. The old man and the narrator work together to prepare the ferry for winter. The old man says that although it hasn’t snowed in years, he thinks it might this year. The narrator is excited at the prospect, since she’s only seen it snow a few times in her life. She gives him a sweater that she’s knitted for him—though it doesn’t fit perfectly, he seems to love it.
The old man and the narrator’s connection deepens here, since they become a team working together to get the ferry ready for winter. This foreshadows how they will work together to help R later in the story. It’s interesting that, though ferries are disappeared, the defunct ferry still acts as a connector between the two characters, furthering the idea that many things are more than simple objects—they can facilitate powerful connections between people.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The next day, winter sets in, and the river ices over. The narrator works on her new novel, about a woman—a typist—who loses her voice. The woman’s boyfriend—her typing teacher—tries to massage her throat, but the voice never comes back, so they communicate only through a typewriter. The narrator isn’t sure how the story will end. At the moment, it seems “pleasant enough,” but she feels it might take a “frightening turn.”
The narrator’s story mirrors, thematically, what is happening in the larger narrative. So, at the moment, the woman (the narrator’s protagonist) has suffered a loss, but it doesn’t seem to be the end of the world. This mirrors how, though things are disappearing from the island, people are still able to lead “pleasant enough” lives. However, the narrator’s premonition that her own story might turn “frightening” is ominous, foreshadowing what might happen in the larger narrative. Storytelling is a way for the narrator to make sense of her own life, which shows the value that the novel itself places on writing and stories.
Themes
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Later that night, the narrator is working late—past midnight—when she hears a knock. Though at first she can’t place it, eventually she realizes that it’s coming from the basement, a place she’s hardly gone since her mother’s death. After locating the key (it’s been so long since she’s been down there that she has trouble finding it), she goes downstairs and sees that there is indeed someone outside of her mother’s studio. 
The fact that the narrator has not been to her mother’s studio in so long shows that she’s rather detached from the memory of her mother—or, at the very least, that she doesn’t like stirring up old memories by going down there. This furthers the story’s overall claim that ordinary objects (or places) have the ability to act well beyond only their intended function, since places and things act as conduits for memories.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The narrator is nervous, but the knock seems too polite to be that of a burglar, so she asks who’s there. An apologetic voice responds saying that it is Inui.  The narrator opens the door to find Professor Inui, his wife, and their two children (a 15-year-old daughter and a younger son) standing there. Inui, an old friend of the narrator’s parents, teaches in the dermatology department at the island’s university hospital. The family is clearly anxious and uneasy, and they huddle together. The narrator invites them in and suggests that they go up to the living room where it is warm, but the professor says that there is no time. Each family member carries two bags.
The Inui family is clearly flustered and scared. Saying that they have no time to go upstairs shows that they’re probably on the run. Still, the narrator welcoming them into her house hints at her willingness to help others.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
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Once inside, Professor Inui says that “it finally arrived” and explains that he’s received a summons from the Memory Police: they want him at their genetic analysis center. He’s been “dismissed” from his job at the university and is supposed to be escorted to the center later that morning along with his family. When the narrator asks why, Inui says that he has no idea. However, he suspects that they want to use him to help detect those people who can retain their memory, and the narrator remembers what R told her about genetic testing.
It is noteworthy that Professor Inui seems to think that his summons was inevitable. By saying “it finally arrived,” he suggests that he was only waiting for some sort of call like this from the Memory Police. Clearly, since he’s on the run, he doesn’t have any plans to follow the summons, which shows that he fears even something official like a summons if it comes from the Memory Police. The fact that he was fired (“dismissed”) from his teaching job shows how the Memory Police are willing to use manipulation to scare people into doing what they want. Inui’s belief that the Memory Police are expanding their capabilities by developing technology to detect people who keep their memory signifies again how the Memory Police are increasing surveillance and authority over the island.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Professor Inui explains that the offer is “frighteningly” generous. They’re offering three times what he currently makes, the government center has a school for the children, and there is a car and housing all set up for him and his family. The order came three days ago. Inui’s wife says that everything happened so fast, they weren’t even able to take their family cat, Mizore.
Professor Inui demonstrates further anxiety about the summons by saying how outrageous the offer was. This shows both that the Memory Police have more money than everyone else, and that they’re not the sort of organization that the average citizen trusts. The fact that the Inuis had to leave their family cat is another allusion to Anne Frank, since she wrote in her diary that she had to leave her beloved cat, Moortje, to go into hiding from the Nazis.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Professor Inui’s wife hesitantly adds that their summons is just like the letter that came for the narrator’s mother. The narrator thinks about her mother’s death, which happened when she was much younger. No one had heard of the Memory Police at that time, so her mother and father hadn’t been particularly worried when a summons arrived—just a bit apprehensive about how long her mother might be gone. However, the narrator remembers feeling sure that the summons had something to do with the chest of drawers in the basement.
The narrator’s sense of foreboding about the letter from the Memory Police shows how dangerous it was for her mother to keep those seemingly mundane objects in the basement. The fact that their family didn’t run, though, like the Inui family, shows how oppressive regimes can often hide their true intentions at the beginning.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
A fancy black car picked the narrator’s mother up on the day she left—the narrator remembers her mother waving from the car as though she were on her way to an awards ceremony. But one week later, her mother was dead—the government sent her body back alongside a death certificate. Cause of death was ruled a heart attack, which was never technically disproven.
The narrator’s mother’s sudden and mysterious death while in government care was formative for the narrator. Though she never got confirmation that the Memory Police killed her mother, it’s clear that she has reason to believe that they murdered the mother. It’s also noteworthy that, back when the narrator was young, there were more covert ways of collecting people. This contrasts with the more aggressive method of rounding citizens up on the street during the day. Either way, the narrator certainly knows a lot more than she did when she was a child, and it seems that no one is prepared to trust the Memory Police now.
Themes
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Professor Inui says that he recognized the letter he received as the same—even the same paper and font. If he refuses the summons, the Memory Police will take him away by force. He says he’ll never work for them. Though he doesn’t want to frighten his children, he explains to the narrator how serious he thinks this is, which is why they all have to be on the run. Inui asks the narrator if she will take five small, wooden sculptures of tapirs that her mother made and gave to the Inuis as gifts. The narrator accepts them.
Again, the Memory Police are a source of fear and dread. The fact that Professor Inui thinks they will take him anyway if he refuses the summons shows how absolute their power is on the island. It’s also significant that, before they part, Inui gives the narrator statues that her mother made—this is a thoughtful gesture, since the narrator would never have seen the sculptures again if the Inuis hadn’t brought them to her.
Themes
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Quotes
Before Professor Inui and his family leaves, the narrator hurries upstairs to make a drink. She brings the family heated milk in mugs, and they all make a silent toast. The narrator asks where they will go, but Inui refuses to tell her, so that she won’t be made to confess anything if she is captured and questioned. She says she will pray for their safety. Mrs. Inui asks for a nail clipper, and the narrator finds one. The narrator helps the young son remove his sky-blue gloves, then gently clips his nails. After she finishes, the Inui family leaves, “vanishing” into the night.
The fact that the Inuis won’t tell the narrator where they’re going again shows how much people on the island fear the Memory Police and speaks again to the government’s possible methods of surveillance. Everything about the way the Memory Police operate is so unknown that people decide not to take any risks. The narrator cutting the young boy’s nails is a tender gesture, showing how even in times of war or authoritarianism, everyday activities—like sharing a drink or nail-clipping—still go on. It is also significant that the Inuis “vanish” when they leave: this suggests that, when people go into hiding, it is almost like they’ve died, because they are lost to the community and the people around them.
Themes
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon