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.
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon

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 mother is one of these affected people, and she tells the narrator—who is affected—that she thinks she keeps her memories because she’s “always thinking about” these lost items. This admission suggests that the forgetting may not be entirely random—that there may be some level of personal choice in the matter.

Throughout most of the novel, the narrator, her close friend the old man, and most of the people on the island who are afflicted accept the disappearances without “much fuss.” They seem to accept new “holes in their hearts” every time a disappearance happens, conceding that there’s nothing to be done, even as the circumstances on the island get worse and worse. But characters like R, the narrator’s editor who doesn’t forget and who desperately tries to bring back his friends’ memories, insist that there is a greater capacity for free will than the narrator and the old man seem to believe. The book doesn’t necessarily end on a hopeful note—the narrator herself “disappears” when she disconnects from her entire body and essentially dies. But R, who has been hiding from The Memory Police in a secret room most of the book, does finally get to leave and go out into the world. Thus, the novel seems to subtly side more with R’s way of thinking. The ending implies that people have more control over seemingly uncontrollable circumstances than they think, and that people should tap into their free will and try to make changes that will benefit society.

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Fate vs. Free Will Quotes in The Memory Police

Below you will find the important quotes in The Memory Police related to the theme of Fate vs. Free Will.
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 11  Quotes

“Memories don’t just pile up—they also change over time. And sometimes they fade of their own accord. Though the process, for me, is quite different from what happens to the rest of you when something disappears from the island.”

“Different how?” I asked […]

“My memories don’t feel like they’ve been pulled up by the root. Even if they fade, something remains. Like tiny seeds that might germinate again if the rain falls.”

Related Characters: R (speaker), The Unnamed Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 82
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 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:
Chapter 25  Quotes

“Even if the whole island disappears, this room will still be here,” R said. His tone was even and calm, filled with love, as though he were reading an inscription engraved on a stone monument. “Don’t we have all the memories preserved here in this room? The emerald, the map, the photograph, the harmonica, the novel—everything. This is the very bottom of the mind’s swamp, the place where memories come to rest.”

Related Characters: R (speaker), The Unnamed Narrator
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26  Quotes

By the time their right arms disappeared, people were less troubled than they had been with the disappearance of their left legs. They didn’t linger in bed, wondering what had happened, or spend hours trying to figure out how to get dressed, or worry about how to dispose of the disappeared item. To be honest we had been certain something like this would happen sooner or later.

The disappearances of body parts were, in fact, easier and more peaceful than earlier ones, as no one had to gather in the square to burn the objects or send them floating down the river. There was no uproar, no confusion. We merely went about our usual morning routines, accepting that a new cavity had opened in our lives.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis: