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.
Loss, Isolation, and Identity Theme Icon

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 either forced into hiding or arrested. Each time a character experiences a loss, they feel deeply isolated and actually seem to lose a piece of themselves—first in a figurative sense, but by the novel’s end, in a very literal sense. The narrator, for instance, loses both parents at a young age, which leaves her unmoored and alone, with only two personal connections: an old man she’s known since childhood and her aloof editor, R. And when birds are disappeared from the island, the narrator loses a specific bond she used to share with her father (who was an ornithologist) as well as an important part of her connection to nature. Later, when novels are disappeared, the narrator (who is a writer) loses another intangible piece of herself: her creative drive and self-expression. In this sense, the novel shows how loss of all kinds can gradually chip away at a person’s very identity, leaving them isolated, directionless, and disconnected from the world around them.

This idea also comes up in excerpts of the narrator’s new novel, which punctuate the book. In this manuscript, a sadistic typing teacher steals a young woman’s voice  as well as her freedom, locking her away in the top room of a clocktower. Eventually, she disassociates so much from herself that her body is “cut away from her soul.”. The narrator’s novel ends with the young woman disappearing, as she’s inexplicably “absorbed” into the room. A similar phenomenon plays out at the end of main narrative in The Memory Police: the narrator cannot fight against all that she has lost and believes that her heart is empty—she’s lost every body part through disappearances—so she, too, disappears into nothing. In this way, The Memory Police makes literal the isolating feeling of despair and indeed the loss of self that can accompany physical or emotional loss.

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Loss, Isolation, and Identity Quotes in The Memory Police

Below you will find the important quotes in The Memory Police related to the theme of Loss, Isolation, and Identity.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Ribbon, bell, emerald, stamp. The words that came from my mother’s mouth thrilled me, like the names of little girls from distant countries or new species of plants. As I listened to her talk, it made me happy to imagine a time when all these things had a place on the island.

Yet that was also rather difficult to do. The objects in my palm seemed to cower there, absolutely still, like little animals in hibernation, sending me no signal at all. They often left me with an uncertain feeling, as though I were trying to make images of the could in the sky out of modeling clay. When I stood before the secret drawers, I felt I had to concentrate on each word my mother said.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Mother
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4  Quotes

“It seems strange that you can still create something totally new like this—just from words—on an island where everything else is disappearing,” he said, brushing a bit of dirt from one of the pages as though he were caressing something precious.

I realized that we were thinking the same thing. As we looked into each other’s eyes, I felt, once again, the anxiety that had taken root in our hearts a long time ago.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5  Quotes

“It’s terribly kind of you to be concerned, but I think it would be best not to tell you anything about the safe house. It’s not that we’re worried you might let something slip—if that were the case, we would never have brought the sculptures here in the first place. But we can’t allow ourselves to cause you any more trouble than we already have. The more deeply you become involved, the more danger you’ll be in. You can’t be forced to reveal what you don’t know, but if you do know something, there’s no telling what they might do to get it out of you. So I beg of you, please don’t ask about the safehouse.”

Related Characters: Professor Inui (speaker), The Unnamed Narrator
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6  Quotes

The few flowers in the garden other than roses had survived—bellflowers, a couple of spiny cacti, some gentians. They bloomed discreetly, as though embarrassed to have been spared. The breeze seemed to discriminate, choosing only the rose petals to scatter.

A garden without roses was a meaningless, desolate place, and it was terribly sad to see the trellises and other signs of all the care that had been lavished on the flowers […] I wandered across the hill as though walking through a cemetery of unmarked graves.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
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 8  Quotes

“Sometimes I try to remember—those were precious moments with my mother—but I can’t recall the objects. My mother’s expression, the sound of her voice, the smell of the basement air—I can remember all that perfectly. But the things in the drawers are vague, as though those memories, and those alone, have dissolved.”

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Mother, R
Page Number: 62
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

The tapping of the key striking the paper was the only sound in the room. Snow had begun to fall again, covering the tracks I had made […] He continued to hold me tighter […] The bell in the clock tower began to chime. Five o’clock. The vibration came from far above, rattling the window glass and passing through our bodies, before being absorbed by the snow below. The only motion was the falling of the snowflakes. I held my breath, unable to move, as though locked inside the typewriter.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), The Typing Teacher
Related Symbols: Snow
Page Number: 91
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 14  Quotes

I watched him from behind for a few moments. Was it an illusion, or had his body actually begun to shrink since he’d hidden himself away here? He had definitely grown pale, without any contact with sunlight, and his appetite was poor, so he’d lost weight, but what I sensed was not that sort of tangible change but some more abstract transformation. Every time I saw him, I could feel the outline of his body blurring, his blood thinning, his muscles withering.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17  Quotes

Just then, three shadows emerged from the house to the east of mine. It was too dark to distinguish their features, but they walked wearily through the snow, backs bent, the Memory Police pushing them from behind, the light glinting cruelly off their guns.

Snatches of my neighbors’ voices could be heard in the dark.

“I had no idea they were hiding people in there,” said the former hatmaker. “Who would have thought it?”

“Seems as though both the husband and wife were in a secret group that help folks like that.”

“I guess that’s why they didn’t get to know anyone in the neighborhood.”

“Look at him. He’s just a child.”

Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

“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 19  Quotes

Needless to say, R was violently opposed to losing our collection of novels.

“You’ve got to bring them all here,” he said, “including your manuscript.”

If I do, the room will be buried in books, with no place for you to live.” I shook my head.

“Don’t worry about that, I don’t need much space. If we hide them here, they’ll never find them.”

“But what happens to them? What’s the point of storing away books that have disappeared?”

He sighed and pressed his fingers to his temples—as he always did when we talked about the disappearances. Try as we might to understand each other, nothing changed for either of us. The more we talked, the sadder we became.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R (speaker)
Page Number: 176
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 22  Quotes

I’d heard rumors that people who had been hiding were forced to wander the streets when their homes were destroyed by the earthquake or the fires that followed it. And that the Memory Police had been rounding them up and taking them into custody one after the other. But I had no way to know whether the Inui family had actually been in that truck or not. All I could do was pray that someone had continued to cut the little boy’s fingernails and that the blue gloves were still protecting him.

Page Number: 207
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:
Chapter 28  Quotes

For a very long time, he sat staring at the void in his palms. When at last he had convinced himself that there was nothing left, he let his arms drop wearily. Then he climbed the ladder one rung at a time, lifted the trapdoor, and went out into the world. Sunlight came streaming in for one moment but vanished again as the door creaked shut. The faint sound of the rug being rolled out on the floor came to me from above.

Closed in the hidden room, I continued to disappear.

Related Characters: The Unnamed Narrator (speaker), R
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis: