The Factory Ship is a novel about the struggle of the workers on a crab factory ship, which catches crabs and produces canned crabmeat. Apart from the difficult lives of the workers, food is also a major part in the story. More importantly, food has a significant role in dramatizing the presentation of the theme of the “thingification” of humans. Here, I am going to discuss how people in The Factory Ship are “thingified” in a dramatized way by looking into food as the key element in directing the story and how food is used as a metaphor.
As the story stages in a factory ship that produces canned crabmeat, food items, especially crabs have key roles in directing the story and thus reflect the low status of workers. Looking closely into the story, it is not difficult to see that crabs are superior to the workers and the workers are just tools for catching crabs and producing canned crabmeat. Workers do not receive any respects and they can be abandoned anytime if they are not able to contribute to the production. Asakawa, the superintendent, only concentrates on boosting the productivity and he does not concern about the workers. In order to maximize the productivity, he forces the sick workers to work (p.22) and punishes the workers with hot tongs (p.38). If the workers die of illnesses, he just puts their dead bodies into the hemp sacks and through them into the sea (p.62). Through describing the production process of canned crabmeat, the inhuman treatments of the workers can be clearly brought out and shows that workers are “thingified” as tools in the production rather than being treated as human beings.
Other than “thingifying” the characters in The Factory Ship through the canned crabmeat production, “thingification” of humans can be seen from the rhetorical perspective. In the text, food is often used as the metaphor to describe people. When talking about the poor living condition on the ship in winter, the writer describes the workers as “salmon and shook with the cold” (p.14) and their hands as “raw and red as crab claws” (p.11). Besides that, in the chapter about the urbanization of Hokkaido, dead bodies of workers are portrayed as “filets of fish” that used to fortify the walls of the mines (p.40). By relating human beings to food items, the value of humans as living individuals is reduced. In stead, humans in the story are portrayed as objects and utensils for development or production.
All in all, The Factory Ship points out that humans are very trivial and almost worthless in the process of modernization and industrial production. They are only some of the tools in the whole production process. In order to present the theme of the “thingificantion” of humans under the capitalist society in a dramatized way, the writer makes use of the production of canned crabmeat to reflect the unfair treatments received by the workers and employs food as the metaphor to describe people.
Kobayashi, Takiji. The Factory Ship.