The Memory Police

by

Yoko Ogawa

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The old man is the unnamed narrator’s late nurse’s husband. He used to be a ferry mechanic until those boats “disappeared”—for most of the novel, he lives on a derelict ferry that only functions as a large hunk of metal. He has known the narrator for most of her life and is a kind and handy man. He agrees to help the narrator hide R before he even knows what he is agreeing to. When she explains what she needs him to do to help her, he builds out most of the room that R ultimately stays in: the ventilation, the plumbing system, insulation, and even the bed that R sleeps on. He gets along well with everyone. The old man, like the narrator and like most of the people on the island, is affected by the disappearances and forgets things as soon as they are disappeared. However, at one point he is captured and interrogated (possibly tortured) by the Memory Police—some people escaped the island on a boat, and even though he had nothing to do with it he was taken in and questioned. One day, the city is hit by an earthquake, and the old man becomes trapped underneath a cabinet. Although the narrator is able to get him out from underneath, he suffers a brain injury and dies a short time later of an intracranial hemorrhage. The old man’s death deeply affects the narrator, and she feels terribly sad, lonely, and anxious after he’s gone.

The Old Man Quotes in The Memory Police

The The Memory Police quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Man or refer to The Old Man. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
).
Chapter 7  Quotes

“It’s true, I know, that there are more gaps in the island than there used to be. When I was a child, the whole place seemed…how can I put this?...a lot fuller, a lot more real. But as things got thinner, more full of holes, our hearts got thinner, too, diluted somehow. I supposed that kept things in balance. And even when that balance begins to collapse, something remains. Which is why you shouldn’t worry.”

Related Characters: The Old Man (speaker), The Unnamed Narrator
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10  Quotes

R let out a little gasp of surprise as I rolled up the carpet and lifted the trapdoor.

“Like a cave floating in the sky,” he murmured.

“It’s a bit tight, I know, but at least you’ll be safe here. No one can see you from outside, and there’s not much chance of them hearing you either.”

Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12  Quotes

In this way we managed to live in relative security. Everything went according to plan, and we seemed to have solutions for any problems that did occur. The old man did much to help us, and R did his best to adjust quickly to the secret room.

But quite apart from the small satisfactions we enjoyed, the world outside was deteriorating day by day. The disappearances, which had slowed down after the roses, returned with two in quick succession: first, photographs, and then fruits of all sorts.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R, The Old Man
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13  Quotes

“Everything outside is completely different from when you came here. The snow has changed everything.”

“Changed how?”

“Well, it’s difficult to describe. For one thing, the world is completely buried. The snow is so deep that the sun barely starts to melt it when it does come out. It rounds everything, makes it look lumpy, and it somehow makes everything seem much smaller—the sky and sea, the hills and the forest and the river. And we all go around with our shoulders hunched over.”

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R (speaker), The Old Man
Related Symbols: Snow
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17  Quotes

“I think all this crying must be proof that my heart is so weak that I don’t know how to help myself.”

“But I’d say it’s just the opposite. Your heart is doing everything it can to preserve its existence. No matter how many memories these men take away, they’ll never reduce it to nothing.”

“I hope that’s true.”

I looked at R. I needed only to lean slightly in his direction for us to be touching. He raised his hand and brushed away a tear at the corner of my eye with his fingers.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R (speaker), The Memory Police , The Old Man
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20  Quotes

When we’d finished eating, the old man went to find the music box hidden in the bathroom. He set it on the table and we listened together. As always, it faithfully repeated its tune, over and over. We stopped chatting, sat up straight, and closed our eyes. I had no idea where or how one was supposed to listen to a music box, but I had decided arbitrarily that closing my eyes would enhance the effect R had hoped it would induce in us.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), The Old Man, R
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Memory Police PDF

The Old Man Character Timeline in The Memory Police

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Man appears in The Memory Police. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3 
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Memory and Connection  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.”... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The end of autumn arrives. The old man and the narrator work together to prepare the ferry for winter. The old man says... (full context)
Chapter 7 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Soon, the river is back to normal. The old man saw all this happen from the ferry. The narrator, visiting him, asks how the wind... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The old man tries to reassure the narrator, telling her she doesn’t need to worry because it’s possible... (full context)
Chapter 9 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The narrator sits with the old man on the boat. She is about to tell him a secret but says that if... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator and the old man agree that a small, hidden room underneath the narrator’s father’s old office is the best... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The next day, the narrator and the old man get to work setting up the hideaway. It is a terribly daunting task, because they... (full context)
Chapter 10 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
...he needs to be packed and head to the train station at eight o’clock—there, an old man will approach him. R is to follow this man to the safe location. (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...time is moving in slow motion. She can’t see anything outside except sheets of rain. The old man and R (finally) arrive after 8:45, soaking wet. The old man tells the narrator that... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
...that they’re not working with any of the underground organizations and properly introduces him to the old man , explaining how they’ve known each other since her childhood. R is thankful for their... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The old man and the narrator leave R to get situated, and the narrator tells R she’ll bring... (full context)
Chapter 11 
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator and the old man figure out how to communicate with R’s wife, who is now living with her parents... (full context)
Chapter 13 
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
One day, without warning, the Memory Police take the old man . The narrator opens the trapdoor of the secret room and desperately calls out to... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
R concludes that the old man must have been taken for something unrelated, since the Memory Police often round up people... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...to the Memory Police headquarters. She wants any information she can get and to help the old man if possible. She trudges to the headquarters—the sun is weakly shining, but there is still... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...term. He asks her who she is here to visit, and the narrator responds with the old man ’s name. The officer says that the old man is not there. The narrator asks... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator tries to argue with the Memory Police officer, determined to figure out where the old man is, but the officer says it’s a complicated system that the narrator doesn’t understand. He... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...friend is being fed and cared for. She argues back, asking why such an innocent old man would be taken. He says that it is up for them to decide if there... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator then asks if they can at least tell her if the old man is safe, to which the man suggests that if he is indeed as innocent as... (full context)
Chapter 14 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Three days later, the Memory Police release the old man , and the narrator finds him on the ferry in his room. She tells him... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator asks the old man about what happened while the Memory Police had him. He says not to worry about... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...sea under the cover of darkness. She wonders aloud if they escaped safely and asks the old man where he thinks they were going. He says he doesn’t know, but maybe there’s somewhere... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Not long after the old man ’s return, R’s wife gives birth to their baby boy. The narrator facilitates the communication... (full context)
Chapter 16 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
A little while after the calendars disappear, it is the old man ’s birthday. Even though they can’t keep dates on calendars anymore or keep time through... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
On the day of their celebration, the old man shows up at the narrator’s house dressed well. The narrator has set everything up in... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The party continues merrily. For a while, the narrator, the old man , and R are almost able to forget their circumstances. However, any time one of... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
...finish dinner and dessert, the narrator and R take out their presents. The narrator gives the old man a porcelain shaving set, and he is moved to have received something so beautiful. Then... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...also started hiding the disappeared objects because he couldn’t bring himself to throw them out. The old man objects, saying he could never keep such a precious gift, but R insists that he... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
...“o…ru…gō…ru.” R asks if it’s painful to be reminded of the things that they forget. The old man says no—he’ll be honored to play the music box in his home on the boat. (full context)
Chapter 17 
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator freezes at the sound of the doorbell. The old man puts an arm around her shoulders, and R looks up at the trap door above... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The Memory Police are indeed at the narrator’s front door. They tell her and the old man to put their hands behind their heads. They instruct the old man and the narrator... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The Memory Police ask the old man why he is there, and he replies that he’s been doing odd jobs for the... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...then move upstairs. Though there are fewer rooms upstairs, they seem to search more thoroughly. The old man and the narrator are able to see what is happening in the study because the... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...They note that the third person getting escorted away is only a child, a teenager. The old man and the narrator hold each other’s hands tightly. (full context)
The narrator thinks she can smell the slightest hint of the old man ’s birthday cake from earlier. R tells the narrator that she can stay in the... (full context)
Chapter 19 
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The people in the town start burning their books. Flames rise all over the island. The old man helps the narrator carry all her remaining books to the center of town, so they... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...looks distraught and agitated. She’s wearing something odd on her head. The narrator says to the old man that she should get down, otherwise the Memory Police will take her. He replies that... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
On their way home from burning the books, the old man and the narrator see that the library is on fire. The beauty of the burning... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Continuing their walk home, the narrator and the old man stop by the observatory, which is in ruins. The narrator says aloud a quote she... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator has a few more books with her, and she and the old man throw them out the observatory window. She asks him how he felt when ferries disappeared,... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator tells the old man she is going to try and write in secret, because R told her this was... (full context)
Chapter 20 
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Soon, just as the old man said she would, the narrator finds another job as a typist for a trading company.... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Later, the old man asks the narrator if doing something she’s not used to doing is tiring. She replies... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
The old man asks the narrator how her novel writing is going, although it is difficult for him... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The old man then asks the narrator if she is in love with R. She says she supposes... (full context)
Chapter 21 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Don hides under the old man ’s couch, trembling. The narrator searches for the old man among the debris and finds... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator and the old man make it safely off the ferry and keep running until they reach the ruins of... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
When the narrator and the old man turn to look at each other, they realize that they are in bad shape: their... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...starts to snow as emergency vehicles and the Memory Police’s trucks drive through the town. The old man and the narrator hurry to the narrator’s house, which appears fine from the outside but... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The old man calls down to R, who knocks from his side and says he’s there. Even with... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The narrator goes across the street to get tools, and the old man is able to pry the trapdoor open. The narrator borrowed the tools from the ex-hatmaker.... (full context)
Chapter 22 
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
After the earthquake, the old man moves into the narrator’s house. Though this seems like the most natural solution and the... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
While the old man and the narrator are cleaning up the house, they encounter something in the basement. The... (full context)
Chapter 23 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will 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... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance 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... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Memory and Connection  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... (full context)
Chapter 24 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Two weeks later, the old man seems like himself again. He, the narrator, and R have still not gone through all... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will 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... (full context)
Memory and Connection  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... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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.... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
The narrator and the old man keep talking. She thinks how his hands, which she’s known since she was a little... (full context)
Chapter 25 
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Later, the first disappearance since the old man ’s death happens. The narrator wakes up and tries to think what it could be... (full context)
Chapter 26 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...completely underwater, but she thinks it will be soon. She remembers her last conversation with the old man and all the things the two of them did together, and she wonders if she... (full context)
Chapter 28 
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
The narrator realizes she is happy that the old man died before bodies disappeared. But then she wonders if the order of disappearances makes any... (full context)