Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces Factory Journal Analysis
“Factory Journal” is one of those rare publications which provides an intimate look into the workplace of the common person. Yet it could have been written only by an outsider. Simone Weil seems to have been one of the great outsiders of history, a member of a supportive family but despairing of her place in it, a Jew who tells of mystical experiences with Jesus, a lover of Catholicism who refused baptism, a talented writer who believed that her natural ability was mediocre, a political activist and anticapitalist who thought that the work of the Left benefited only the Soviet bureaucracy. Gradually, she came to believe that liberation of the poor must occur within the basic socioeconomic context of their lives and not in revolution or political action per se. “Factory Journal” is instrumental in her account of a quest for something beyond the social, something she would call love of neighbor or justice. At this time, she had not yet read the Sermon on the Mount, but, as she would explain later, the message contained in its teachings was becoming the first and necessary duty. It was in this spirit that she had rented a room near the factory and set out to live on her meager earnings. She was pushed close to the breaking point.
Later, when her notebooks and other writings were published, many would find her struggle altruistic, insightful, and even saintly, although there would be some who questioned the depth of her motivation. Some people saw a comic quality in her factory involvement which Weil herself would be quite content to accept as a sign of holy simplicity. If she was a fool, she saw herself as God’s fool, one who, like all others, could penetrate to “the kingdom of truth reserved for genius.”
Weil believed that a serious, disciplined effort would produce rewards even if the immediate problem could not be solved. She used mathematical examples to explain this idea and unwittingly revealed her childhood frustration over her brother Andre’s prodigal success in this field. This Frenchwoman struggled to approach all tasks with deep concentration, for in the mastery of the will was found something far greater than the job itself. She would say in her spiritual letters that concentration opened the way for God. Accordingly, “Factory Journal” reflects a seriousness, producing a feeling in the reader that the specific task discussed, whether it be operating a punch press or a milling machine or the like, takes on a universal significance. Thus, a paradox is created. The worker is a machine whose every second is monitored, and yet the labor itself is salvific.
One of Weil’s persistent beliefs was in a process that she labeled “de-creation.” The key to the reception of God’s grace was through the erosion of the self; this helps to produce a state of expiation in which one realizes the arrogance of presuming self-creation and self-control. Purgation, suffering, is demanded for understanding and love; suffering itself becomes love. This is what she experienced in the factory and this is the central theme of “Factory Journal.” Rather than working-class solidarity in a prerevolutionary setting, she discovered a world of mindless, robotic degradation. She found herself humiliated to the roots of her being. Over and over she notes her sense of enslavement. Shortly after leaving her factory work, she would conclude that Christianity is the religion of slaves and that all slaves, herself included, could not resist its pull. “Factory Journal” is an account of submission or, as she states in her concluding entry, “acceptance.” The environment she portrays in the journal is totalitarian, a totalitarianism not merely of place but of mind and spirit; consequently, the diary has a prophetic, timeless quality making it relevant to later readers. Weil hammers home the fact that efficient oppression creates not revolution but submission and that submission can be the path not to liberation but to grace.
(The entire section is 1,041 words.)