IanHunter N. Thorpe
The story of Multatuli takes the reader into a different world one that wouldn’t be expected. The time period of the novel is one of colonial expansion for the Dutch with the subjugation of Southeast Asians. What is perhaps the most surprising about the story is that it was a Dutch man who spoke out against the ill treatment of the native population and not a member of the subjugated masses. When looking at the story through the lens of that time period with social Darwinism on the rise, any European that would have issues with colonial mistreatment is surprising. It only takes one person to bring the popular conception of colonialism into question.
The book brings several different concepts together that paint a clear picture of the era, the coffee broker Droogstoppel who anchors a part of the story in Europe. Droogstoppel constantly states that he is a man of truth yet ironically he is the one who often profits the most off the mistreatment of the natives. Droogstoppel is somewhat of an abstract thought that represents how the Dutch are exploiting Indonesia. Then the story shifts to Indonesia where Max Havelaar is working as assistant resident in the Dutch East Indies. Havelaar is taking up the cause of helping the Javanese but his Dutch superiors work against him. Havelaar is ultimately forced out of his position and returns to the Netherlands.
What sets the book apart in the end of the story is that it breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to King William III about the mistreatment of his people in the East Indies. Multatuli presents an image of people being mistreated, that the people being mistreated were not any different because they were Javenese but that the subjects of King William were being mistreated in his name.