The Factory Ship: “Thingnification” of Food

The Factory Ship, a pro proletarian novel is written by Japanese writer Kobayashi Takiji and published in 1929. The novel starts with the fishermen’ suffering from poor living condition and dehumanized treatment in the ship, and the suffering finally leads to a strike and rebellion that against the superintendent and furthermore, the current social status of Japan. Although the rebellion is collapsed and fallen apart easily in first time, Kobayashi intensively concludes the novel as the pursuing of righteousness, fairness and liberal is never going to stop.

The novel symbolically refers the Hokkaido workers as octopuses and the “thingnificantly” importance of crabs as great profits toward the rich. The two metaphors are both food materials but referring to “thingnificantly” different thing. By using octopuses as a metaphor to workers in Hokkaido, or basically refers to all grassroots workers in Japan at that time, it precisely analogizes their condition of living is alike octopuses “since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must.” (Pg. 39) This description in its implied meaning is saying that even the grassroots workers are already undertaking heavy and overloaded works, the return is never going to fulfill their disbursements. The result of this condition is straightforward, which the poor have to sacrifice their health even more to keep their living, but it’s no different to deathward ongoing. Kobayashi directly indicates this point in content which says “what difference was there basically between the workers and this sea creature”. (Pg. 39)

As the original title of this novel in Japanese also mentions crab, crab as a metaphor of profit to the rich is intuitively given to the readers. The indication is appeared in a conversation where the Shibaura man gives his idea to his fellow workers, he says “All right, then, let’s assume that a ship has been built on money put up by the rich… With this one ship they stand to make a clear net profit of between four and five hundred thousand yen… it doesn’t just grow out of nothing…The money to buy the ship and equipment and to hire the men was earned with the blood of other laborers and with ours!” (Pg. 71-72) This conversation is a direct and powerful criticism towards the rich and capitalism, and the unbalanced benefit relationship is the main pathogen in the society that Kobayashi is trying to reveal and against.

The rebellion is caused by poor food supply along with inhumane treatment. It’s a significant movement that ship crews stand up against oppression; however, the crews do not clearly understand situation by that time and where the “thingnification” of those crabs’ benefit truly goes into, therefore their first rebellion ends in failure. Most of workers think the omnipotent figure, protector of Japanese people, which the emperor should be on their side, but representative of the empire takes the other side and repressed their rebellion. At the end, the remaining crews repent and summarize the failure, and prepare for next rebellion instead of giving it up. Kobayashi affirmatively indicates a sense of hope and his resistance towards capitalism.


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