The Factory Ship, written by Kobayashi Takiji, is a proletarian classic which portrays laborers of the lowest status, the factory hands of a crab factory ship. On the ship, they are not only forced to work under severe weather, but also are over exploited and dehumanized by the superintendent, Asakawa, under the name of the country. In the end, the factory hands could no longer bear the unfair treatment they receive and become unified to stand up against the oppression. Through out the novel, Kobayashi uses a unique style of writing to vividly describe the horrible situation of the workers and how insignificant this class of people is in the capitalist system. This novel is powerful in touching the readers’ hearts and shows how the people could suffer under an unfair social system. From one factory ship to the supply ship, the destroyer, and the contact with the Russians and Chinese man, Kobayashi ties the story of the workers of a factory ship with the entire Japanese society, and even the world, together organically. It shows the opposition and struggle between two social classes, the bourgeoisies and the proletarians.
In additon, food takes a unique role in the novel. First of all, the factory ship portrayed in the story is not any factory ship, it is a ship to produce food, or to be more specifically, shellfish cans. Ironically, the producers of these food are not allow to eat what they labor so hard for. In contrast with what the visitors from the destroyer, the captain and the superintendent eat, “all kinds of foreign-style food”, they ate “rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with thin shavings of something or other floating on top of it (p. 55).” This contrast of diet shows the readers about the different treatments between those who are in the proletarian class and the capitalists, and it is also one of the factors that help building up their dissatisfaction against the unjust social system. It causes the workers to recognize their true condition and the nationalistic lies spoken by the superintendent and make them starting to realize all the workers are equally insignificant in the eyes of the ruling class.
Secondly, good food and alcohol also contribute to the forming of the workers’ solidarity. In one scene, the supply ship comes to bring them goods and letters from home and to play several films for entertainment. In this special occasion, or celebration for the poor men, there are “rice wine, distilled liquor, dried cuttlefish, boiled vegetables, cigarettes, and caramels (p. 51)” available for them to enjoy. In comparison with what they usually have, these good food and liquor create a relaxing atmosphere, which leads them to do things, they normally have no courage to do. For example, when Asakawa is giving an opening speech about the ordinary “sons of Japan”, “national resources”, because of this relaxing atmosphere, the crew could not care less by eating the dried cuttlefish and doing their own things. People even shout and laugh at Asakawa to made the superintendent quit his speech. Undoubtedly, these workers act together against their common enemy and form a start for their union.
Through these two scenes, one may see how food is used in The Factory Ship to carry out a story of the factory workers. Food makes them recognize their condition, unify them, and contribute to form a fondation for their eventual fight back.