The Memory Police


Yoko Ogawa

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Themes and Colors
Memory and Connection  Theme Icon
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon
Authoritarianism and Surveillance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Memory Police, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Memory and Connection

In The Memory Police, objects on an unnamed island gradually and inexplicably start disappearing. An unknown force causes many of the island’s inhabitants to immediately lose their memories of “disappeared” things and to dispose of them in turn. There are some people who retain their memory, though, and a government-run militia called the Memory Police hunts them down, arrests them, and sometimes even kills them. The narrator, a young woman on the island…

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Loss, Isolation, and Identity

On the island where The Memory Police is set, characters frequently lose things—sometimes everyday objects,  but sometimes more important things, like family members or close friends. Aside from death, loss in the novel can also mean “disappearance”: the mysterious phenomenon where most people collectively forget and dispose of a once-familiar object. Or loss can be something more ambiguous, like when a person “vanishes” because they don’t forget disappeared objects like they’re supposed to and are…

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Authoritarianism and Surveillance

In The Memory Police, objects on an unnamed island mysteriously “disappear,” meaning that people suddenly forget them. Following a disappearance, the townspeople will typically destroy these items, often tossing them into the river or burning them in bonfires. However, there is a subset of people who are immune: they don’t forget like they’re supposed to and don’t physically destroy the objects. So, the government creates a law enforcement branch called the Memory Police to

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Storytelling, Longevity, and Defiance

Though so many things disappear throughout The Memory Police, the one thing that seems to endure is storytelling. On an unnamed island, objects “disappear” without warning and are never supposed to be spoken of again—there is even a government body, the Memory Police, who roam the island to ensure these things are gone for good. However, there are people on the island who do not forget—like the unnamed narrator’s mother—and who…

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Fate vs. Free Will

The question of fate versus free will is an important element of The Memory Police. On an unnamed island, objects mysteriously and supernaturally “disappear,” meaning that the island’s inhabitants almost instantly forget everything about them. Who is and is not affected by this phenomenon seems entirely up to chance, and a government-run militia called The Memory Police hunts down, arrests, and sometimes even executes those who do remember “disappeared” things. The unnamed narrator’s…

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