Memory Wall Themes
by Anthony Doerr

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Memory Wall Themes


Memory is a theme that runs through all of the stories in Memory Wall in one way or another. Memories are painted as a vital, integral part of our individuality. Without them, as seen in the character Alma, we are no longer ourselves—we lose our entire history and sense of identity.

Memories are also seen as an intense form of grief. Allison in “The River Nemunas” is haunted by memories of her parents before they died; each time they flash in her mind, she is devastated with longing and sadness. However, at the same time, they are all she has left; they form a lifeline to her deceased family.

Memories keep us company; in “Village 113” the seedkeeper lives in isolation, with only her memories and her son as companions. In “Afterworld,” Esther’s memories are as real as when they happened; her survivor guilt makes her memories a constant source of longing and regret. Through all of these stories, memories play an integral role in the characters’ lives—to keep them company, strengthen them, cause them grief, or sustain them as their world crumbles.

The Impact of Change

All the characters in Doerr’s stories are dealing with major changes in their lives, and they encounter difficulties and frustrations as they do so. Change is inevitable; most characters face it with fear and trepidation. In “Tall Man in the Yard,” Alma is faced every day with the deterioration of her mind and her memories. This change frustrates her, and she fights against it. In “The River Nemunas,” great changes come to Allison’s life when her parents die. At first, Herb and Imogene in “Procreate, Generate” are excited about a change in their lives—adding a child—but when enacting that change becomes too difficult, it threatens to tear apart their marriage. The seedkeeper in “Village 113” is resistant to change; leaving her village and the life she has known there terrifies her. In “The Demilitarized Zone,” Davis is struggling with his recent divorce, which changed his family life, and he is hesitant to tell his son about it. In “Afterworld,” Esther is haunted by the changes that took her from her friends and led to her survival. Change is not always seen as a good thing; when it is, it is at best a force of strengthening in the characters’ lives.


In “Village 113” the incoming dam destroys all of the local villages, complete with their cultures, histories, and traditions. It moves massive numbers of Chinese to the cities, where that history is lost. Although the dam will provide a great source of energy and sustenance, Doerr shows that it is at a great loss. In “Tall Man in the Yard,” even though advancements in science allow people to recapture and review their memories, it fails to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s. An unintended side effect is that it creates a black market of memories; people steal other people’s memories and sell them. Escaping into the lives of others becomes an addiction for many people, much like a drug addiction. It...

(The entire section is 784 words.)