Literary Analysis of “The Factory Ship”

A factory ship is a floating plant that processes crabs and assembles several small boats for hunting crabs. The Factory Ship was written by Kobayshi Takiji and published in 1929. It describes the plight of unemployed laborers, impoverished farmers, and poverty-stricken students who are hired by the factory ship and engaged in the burdensome crab-hunting job for a long period. The crew becomes reduced to objects when the conditions worsen and food is used to stress their transformation. Eventually, they can no longer bear the abuse from the superintendent, Asakawa, so they bind together and rebel against the leaders of the ship.

In the story, the principal way food is used to dramatize the horrible working conditions is through the crew’s complaints about the food and how their bodies are negatively impacted by of the lack of food. Even though food may not be the focus of the story, it is one of the driving factors of the fiction and the exploding fuse that triggers the conflict between the grumpy superintendent and laborers. Owing to the extremely unfair distribution of food, the tension between superintendent and laborers becomes worse and worse, and finally the strike breaks out.

At the beginning of fiction, the superintendent tries every way to take advantage of the laborers and pushes them to work harder and harder. When the confliction between the different classes intensifies, the commuter that is sent from the company brings them good food. “Rice wine, distilled liquor, dried cuttlefish, boiled vegetables, cigarettes, and caramels (p. 51)” After loading the crab cans, laborers are allowed to celebrate the harvest of crabs. However, from what I can see, the celebration to encourage laborers works on the opposite effect. Because the better food causes discontent compared with what laborers used to have to eat before. “ 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 thin shavings of something or other is floating on top of it (p. 55).” When laborers have no idea how the Bourgeoisie’s life is, definitely they will not realize that there is a huge contrast between their lives.  After tasting better food and noticing that the distribution of food looks ridiculous, laborers will disdain how they are treated before. Protest and indignation will be caused, and also, the emotion of revolting will expand quickly.

At the very last, the indignation reaches the peak and the strike goes on. Though the first try does not work out, the second one is already on the way. In term of the whole fiction, food is not the main focus but a significant part. It drives the story on and makes laborers realize how unfair the social distribution is. Perhaps Kobayashi tried to criticize society using this point, that what the proletarian pursues is fair.


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