The Factory Ship depicts the plight of the Japanese proletariat, through the example of mistreated sailors, fishermen, crewmen, and factory boys on a crab cannery factory ship. The workingmen are constantly mistreated and overworked by their superiors, especially the superintendent and are treated no better than objects. This objectification or “thingification” of the crewmembers onboard the ship is represented by both the food that they consume and through the extended metaphor of the workers as food themselves.
Those on board the factory ship are divided distinctly into two groups: the lazy and mean managerial figures (like the superintendent) and the workers who are abused and overburdened. While the lazy upper class is given good food, the lower classes are basically starved: “Like prisoners, they were obsessed with food” (14). Even when they are given meals, the sailors still do not receive the same luxuries afforded to their superiors. On one particular occasion, “the fishermen had their usual meal of rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with shavings of something or other floating on top of it”, while “the cooks took all kinds of foreign-style food to [the superiors]” (55). Therefore, in The Factory Ship, food serves as a representation of unfair social difference. The crew does not receive the meals that they have earned while the seemingly worthless officers dine on unmerited cuisine. Therefore the crew is not treated as human, but as things with one purpose: to work.
The proletariat crewmembers are also objectified as food throughout the text. They are stuffed into their quarters like rotting food in a storeroom. The storeroom where “several dozen pickle barrels were kept, and the pickles feces-like stench mingled with the other foul odors” is juxtaposed with their quarters, which were “dark and gloomy, and the fishermen were sprawled about like pigs in a pigsty. A foul nauseating smell pervaded the room” (4-5). The conditions in which the men live are almost identical to the conditions of the pickles: foul smelling and cramped. This exemplifies the comparison of the deteriorating men as rotting food. As conditions for the men worsen, the comparisons become darker. They work until “their hands [are] raw and red as crab claws” (11) and the superintendent continues to treat them inhumanely, as if they are merely food; for example, when checking the bunks: “Roughly, as if inspecting pumpkins, he twisted the heads of the sleeping factory hands towards him” (15). These metaphors imply that the men are not considered human beings by the officers and the corporation that employs them, but are only as useful as food is to a person. They serve their purpose and then are consumed or thrown away when no longer useful. The superintendent checks the bunks like one would check a storeroom for inventory, rudely and mechanically. The workers are not important as human beings to the company, but instead, they are fuel or food for the corporate entity. This sad truth is most explicitly exemplified in the idea that, “In Hokkaido, workers were referred to as ‘octopuses’ since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must” (39). Therefore, the text implies that workers must unify and revolt because otherwise they will be objectified as things only useful for providing fuel for the company, then discarded when rotten or sucked dry of all nutrition or worth, like some kind of corporate food.