When we are young, we don’t think about the memories that we are making in the present, it is just later that we realize that our younger self is really missed. Sometimes, when we try to revoke those memories, we think that the events that we remember are really what happened at the time, but most of the time those memories are just bits of things someone told us or maybe pictures that we saw. Usually, when we want to remember something we ask our parents or our family, and they tell us a story in order to remember, but have we asked ourselves if that is really us remembering the event or is it only the story that makes us think that we remember this specific event? In the book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman explores several themes including the theme of memory, which he uses a lot through a man’s adulthood trying to remember his childhood perfectly if that is even possible. He explores the theme of memory in The Ocean at the End of the Lane with the use of dialogue between characters, imagery of childhood memories, and symbolism of food to point out that memory is an abstract concept and that it is sometimes risky to rely on it.
To begin, in Neil Gaiman’s novel, he uses dialogue between characters to show the reader that memory is an abstract concept and that it is sometimes risky to rely on it. First, when the main character, the man, returns to his childhood house and talks to Old Mrs. Hempstock, she tells him that he ‘…“comes back, sometimes”. … “I don’t remember.” She pushed her hair from her eyes. “It’s easier that way.”’ (173). The fact that Old Mrs. Hempstock remembers every time the man comes back and that he does not remember, suggests that Old Mrs. Hemspstock could have played with his memory every time he leaves his old house. Also, when the main character says that he does not remember and she says that “It’s easier that way” makes the reader think that she is the one that does not want him to have any memory of coming back to his childhood house and neighborhood. Second, during the conversation between Ginnie Hempstock, Lettie’s mother, and the main character, she re-tells how Lettie saved him from the hunger birds and that he could not talk to her because she is sleeping for a very long time. Then, minutes later at the end of the main character and Old Mrs. Hempstock's conversation, the man forgets everything that Ginnie told him and he still thinks that Lettie is in Australia. The man tells Old Mrs. Hempstock that ‘“Next time Lettie writes from Australia, … please tell her I said hello.” “I will,” she said. “She’ll be glad you thought of her.”’ (178). The fact that he forgets already what Ginnie told him shows that the Hempstocks plays a lot with memory since he always comes back and never remembers that he does, also that he forgot everything that happened when he was seven years old. It is not the first time that the Hempstocks play with memory, they make sure that the man does not have any memory of what happened to Lettie since he could ask a lot of questions and try to save Lettie even though she cannot be saved. Thus, the author shows the reader that even if the main character thinks that he remembers things and that he has some sort of memory, the Hempstocks prove that they can play with memory and show us that it is risky to rely on it.
Then, the author uses the imagery of childhood memories to point out that memory is an abstract concept and that it is sometimes risky to rely on it. First, when the main character goes to his old house just after leaving the funerals, he starts to remember some parts of his childhood. He is thinking to himself that “Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of the crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good” (5). The imagery used is suggesting to the reader that memories are never lost, they are only buried beneath a lot of things including adult life, but when one looks for them, he is going to find them just like the main character when he arrives at his old house. Also, memories are compared to “ childhood toys are forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet”, which suggests that when one does not remember something, a way to be able to remember is by going to the places of that memory or finding an object to be linked with that memory. Second, when the man asked Old Mrs. Hempstock the way to the duck pond, she responds that he has to follow the path. The path turns out to be very effective since “… an hour before, he would have said no, he did not remember the way. …. But standing in that hallway, it was all coming back to him” (7). By following the path and seeing the surroundings, the main character’s memory of this place begins to come back. The fact that the path helps him remember some part of Lettie and her ocean is the start of multiple memories that will come back to him to tell us this whole childhood story. So, when the man comes back, he assumes that he never came before, so for him, it is the first time remembers these memories, but the reader knows that the Hempstocks made him forget everything he remembers. The author, again, shows us that memory is an abstract concept.
Third, Neil Gaiman uses the symbolism of food to point out that memory is an abstract concept and that it is sometimes risky to rely on it. The man starts to remember the dead man in his father’s car when telling his childhood story. After seeing the dead man, he comes back with Lettie to her house to have breakfast there. When Old Mrs. Hempstock gives him the fresh milk, he feels like “Nothing he had drunk had ever tasted like that before; rich and warm and perfectly happy in his mouth. He remembered that milk after he had forgotten everything else” (20). The symbolism of food here is important because the way that the boy forgets everything that happened just before, meaning the dead man, suggests that the milk given by the Hempstocks is what made him forget about the incident. Usually, people won’t forget something major like that after a big glass of milk. Therefore, the Hempstocks, again, played with his memory and erased all of the bad things that happened to him during the past few days.
In conclusion, Neil Gaiman explores the theme of memory in The Ocean at the End of the Lane with the use of dialogue between characters, imagery of childhood memories, and symbolism of food to point out that memory is an abstract concept and that it is sometimes risky to rely on it. In the story, the Hempstocks were a big part of the main character’s memories and they were also deciding of what he would remember or not, so the story of his childhood may not be exactly what happened.