The Memory Police


Yoko Ogawa

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Memory Police can help.
Birds Symbol Icon

In The Memory Police, birds symbolize how memories of a lost loved one—even strong ones—vanish over time. The unnamed narrator’s father was an ornithologist, and when she was younger—before the “disappearance” of birds—she would spend time watching birds with him while he worked. She used to love doing this and would even make up an excuse, like bringing him his lunch, just to visit him at the observatory. Birds “disappear” about five years after her father dies, meaning that most of the island’s inhabitants collectively forget about them. But this portion of the narrative is condensed so that her father’s death and birds disappearing seem to happen simultaneously, which this narratively links the narrator’s memories of her father to her memories of birds. In this way, birds act as a stand-in for all of the positive and connective associations she had to him. Since the narrator is often not even able to remember what birds are called—she calls them “creatures”—the story uses the disappearance of birds and the narrator’s lost connection to them to symbolize how even poignant memories associated with a loved one who passes away are possible to forget altogether.

Birds Quotes in The Memory Police

The The Memory Police quotes below all refer to the symbol of Birds. 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 2  Quotes

The little brown creature flew in a wide circle and then vanished north. I couldn’t recall the name of the species, and I found myself wishing I’d paid more attention when I’d been with my father at the observatory. I tried to hold on to the way it looked in flight or the sound of its chirping or the colors of its feathers, but I knew it was useless. This bird, which should have been intertwined with memories of my father, was already unable to elicit any feeling in me at all. It was nothing more than a simple creature, moving through space as a function of the vertical motion of its wings.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Father
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Memory Police LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Memory Police PDF

Birds Symbol Timeline in The Memory Police

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in The Memory Police. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
...of her father, who was an ornithologist. He spent his time collecting data and photographing birds, and the narrator, when she was young, loved to visit him while he worked. His... (full context)
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
The narrator remembers the morning birds were disappeared. In the memory, she wakes up with the familiar, strange feeling that disappearances... (full context)
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
The day after the birds’ disappearance, there’s an unexpected, violent ring on the narrator’s doorbell. The Memory Police—the feared arm... (full context)
Chapter 19 
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon the wings of the things she used to watch through binoculars with her father. Birds. But even this memory soon fades, and she only sees the fires illuminating the dark... (full context)