Grass Soup And Food Division Barbara Jones Food Division Zhang’s attitude towards splitting up food rations at the reform camp suggests he has not been completely broken down and reformed by The Party. The significance of the dividing of foods illustrates his remaining integrity and emotions that the hunger has affected, but not removed. “Unfortunately, no matter what group I was assigned to, the others always trusted me” (164). Being trusted usually is a positive sign of your character, but Zhang feels it is an unfair burden and responsibility that he would rather not have dealt with. The fact that the other convicts trusted him indicates the fact that he was a cerebral convict who had some integrity left.
In this way Zhang is not as reformed as his fellow intellectuals because the other small workers are quick to criticize others, especially other intellectuals – a form of betrayal. Their betrayal displays the self centered attitude that makes others doubt that particular convict would be fair in the partition. Zhang is more unwilling to turn people in and overanalyze what others say so that he can seem better in the authorities’ eyes. Only when he is asked specifically about Babylon does Zhang reveal something negative about him, yet even then he withholds comments that would have surely been used against Mr. “I like to eat watery things”.
Convicts cannot trust criminal convicts either because it is obvious they are not worthy of anyone’s trust and would partition the food completely unequally without fear of retribution. These convicts have no rectitude and are already accustomed to no one trusting them. “When it came to the question of how to divide up food, criminal convicts were not given a say” (166). Criminal convicts cannot participate in the partitioning of food, because they would undoubtedly cheat others out of their food. The division of food is much too important a responsibility to be placed on a criminal. The fact that they can underhandedly attain more food (i.e.
– by stealing) also leads the intellectuals to believe that the people who rely merely on the partitioned food would divide it honestly and equally. The fact that Zhang steals food and still is trusted enough to divide the food is indicative of his worthiness. The convicts in the camp do not seem completely void of emotions. “Seeing it, one could believe that these men, scraped clean of everything including freedom, could have made an aeroplane with their own bare hands” (165). The convicts proudly create works of art with their hands when fashioning tools used for measuring food.
This burst of ingenuity is one of the few signs that the convicts have any emotion left. The lack of displays of affection for family members or loved ones exhibits the state of disrepair the sentiments of these convicts were in. They see their homes as sources of food, not as their source of humanity and love. The only way these men and women feel anything is if food is involved. The care with which they attend to the discussion and creation of measuring tools indicates that their passion though not directed at amorous affairs or cozy homes, is alive and channeled through their hunger into inventiveness in the division of food.
On the other hand, negative emotions are also reached when dealing with the partition of food. “I silently pick up the pile of cucumbers remaining on the ground, one by one, and when I eat them the flavour is often mixed with my tears” (161). One of the few times Zhang shows any sign of outward emotion is in dealing with the division of the food. He openly cries at the frustration he deals with in collecting his meager portion of food that no one wanted. He does not cry at the death of convicts, or even at the last episode in the book.
He cries not thinking of his mother or the outside world. He cries at the possibly smaller ration of food rejected by the other members of his group that he must eat. He does not get the luxury of choosing what to eat because he divided the food. The Party has cut off almost all his emotions using hunger, so that the only pain he feels is related to food. The worst torture in the camp seems to be the rationing of sparse food into smaller bits for other convicts. Zhang’s emotions and character have obviously been adversely affected by the reform camp because of The Party’s ability to wear out rightists and criminals by starvation and labour, but throughout the experiences that are shared in the book, he possesses some basic honor and humanity in his daily activities. Even through dividing up food, Zhang portrays a decent human being in the torment his life has become.
He is not indicative of other intellectuals, but he is an example of the inner strength an individual can discover he has to survive.