Bali IB DP English

“Coffee With Max Havelaar” – What makes him tick??

In Analysis of Plot, Coffee with Max Havelaar, Max Havelaar on 14/04/2009 at 18:03

Host: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of “Coffee with Max Havelaar”! (Applause). As promised, today, we are back with our most valued ‘co-host’ if you may, to help us verify who the characters of Max Havelaar are, and why they do what they do. Now, let’s talk a bit about this character – Max Havelaar. So Multatuli, Havelaar is clearly presented as a complex character. Prior to reading the novel, I was given the impression that this was most probably the most remarkable man in his time and homeland. However, the ever-changing perspectives in the story openly depict both the positive and negative sides of his being, like his weaknesses. 

“Full of love for truth and justice, he frequently neglected his nearest, most obvious duty, in order to redress a wrong that lay higher, further, or deeper, and that drew him by the probable need for greater effort in the struggle.” – page 89. 

Could this complexity and slight instability of his character be a reflection of your own being?     

Multatuli: I consider this story not entirely a fiction, but an autobiography. As I said a while ago, Max Havelaar was created as a consequence of my own experiences as an Assistant Resident trying to oppose oppression and seeking justice.  When he is introduced, Havelaar is presented as a generous individual who holds passionate ideas in his career and his goals to relieve East Java of oppression and abuse of labor. But he is also described as approachable, he is strong-willed, and he is without doubt a gentleman of high reputation. Above all, he is a family man, which makes his character all the more balanced and not to mention quite enviable. However, one of the main conflicts which this magnificent person clearly faces is his financial affairs, something which both separates him from and reflects upon the readers.  

Host: Well…everyone has problems with this don’t they? Sure, I love to go out every now and then to splurge on the finer things in life…we all do. But Max Havelaar…he seems to be the complete opposite of what we may judge as the common binger. He spends on people who are needy! In the book, he could have invented the term ‘charity’ himself! What better way to spend than to spend on others rather than on oneself, but the funny question is…why does a hero ultimately suffer for having done so many great deeds?

Multatuli: In Max Havelaar, I wanted to make this character believable and hoped the audience would grow with him: to grow attached to him and learn to support his motives and decisions. His tendency to react to justice is a major weakness in his character, because as we know, everything done in excess comes with its own consequences. Donating to any needy native causes him to cut back on his own finances and his family to struggle.

“For I am no fly-rescuing poet, no half-baked dreamer like the downtrodden Havelaar, who did his duty with the courage of a lion and now starves with the patience of a marmot in the winter.” – page 320    

I believe this struggle which Max Havelaar eventually experiences is what truly makes the story all the more realistic, and how I intended it to be from the beginning. 

Host: Indeed, it is definitely realistic, because it explains to the audience that not all heroic acts are successful, doesn’t it. There is one more thing…Havelaar’s situation somehow reminds me of a little story at the beginning of the novel which our Mr. Batavus Droogstoppel elaborates on. Remember when his hat “was blown” into a canal;

“I gave a couple of stivers to the man who brought it backto me, and he was quite satisfied. I’m well aware I should have had to give him more if he had fished me out of the water, but certainly not half my fortune, because it’s obvious that, in that way, you only have to fall into the water twice to be reduced to beggary.” – page 21

Do you consider this assumption a kind of comic foreshadowing for what is to happen to Havelaar?

Multatuli: Well not really foreshadowing…but I suppose it’s more of a simplified comparison – since we know that Droogstoppel has probably been made aware of Havelaar, and like the judgmental individual he is, tends to ridicule him.

Host: Well ladies and gentlemen…My coffee is over! Please give a round of applause for Multatuli, and join us again next time to discuss “Saïja’s journey”.



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