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The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 11-12

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Max Havelaar, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 19:21

So now we pick up again where we left off.  It’s true, these two chapters aren’t the most exciting. Even Frits showed signs of boredom – the thing that animated him the most was Havelaar’s musings on the beautiful women of Arles, which I have to admit, intrigued me as well. Havelaar was an interesting man; eloquent and well-read, and even funny, too! The stories of the stolen turkey, and his days in Sumatra, all had a certain self-deprecating charm to it which was emphasized by the way he mocked his own vanity and youth:

“Among other things, I considered it beneath my dignity to inspect pepper plantations, and that I should have been appointed governor of a solar system long ago.” (page 159)

Another interesting point of these two chapters is that it contains many excerpts of verses and stories, which helps add variation to the structure of the novel, and also builds Havelaar’s character. What I also appreciate, is how small characters and events have been woven subtly into each scene; from Miss Mata-Api to Si Upi Keteh, to the shy Mrs. Slotering next door. It gives the story a depth, like the layers of an onion… or perhaps an artichoke – coating the heart of the story and adding to its shape and flavor.

                Still, it did make me a bit uncomfortable, sifting through the banter, which was as often trivial as it was deeply rooted in serious matters, and deciding which was fit to be included in the novel. Stern helped much, and surprisingly even Droogstoppel, for his distaste for poetry and verse at least reined us in from over-contemplating the excerpts mentioned by Havelaar. Sometimes I am still unsure whether the reader would persist in reading through so much conversation, but I feel that the chapters are the way they should be now, for they do show you much about our hero and heroine.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 9-10

In Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Frits Droogstoppel, Narrative Perspectives, The Editor on 19/04/2009 at 14:58

                These two chapters taught me 3 things.

1.       I will never go to a sermon by Parson Blatherer.

2.       Frits and Stern have really got it worse off than I do, for they have to deal with Droogstoppel every day while I only see him every other day.

3.       Droogstoppel’s an absolute idiot.

Pardon me, I must admit that number 3 is not exactly true, for, if anything, Droogstoppel is smart when it comes to being a coffee broker. But when it comes to being a human being, he has got nothing on Frits or Stern, or even, dare I say it, myself. At least my heart is sensitive enough not to be blinded by prejudices made here in Amsterdam of people there in Java, who’s lives we cannot imagine, and should not judge as blasphemous! So they may have a different faith – I do not approve of it, of course, for I am a man of God too, but I will not say they are bad people because of it, and I certainly will never blame their skin color for it! Frits and I have had many discussions on this. It’s interesting to see how defensive he has become over the Javanese, and it is nothing short of hilarious seeing Droogstoppel twitch in frustration when they begin to argue.

Another thing I’ve taken for granted is how very well Stern and I have been working these past weeks. He’s a good writer, and he understands the story well. Most of all he cares about it – and not just the coffee auctions part of it, but everything. This story deserves nothing less in a writer.

So, that’s what I’ve learnt, more or less. I only wish Droogstoppel could learn that a poem should not be taken literally, and that its beauty is much more than in its ‘jingle-jangle of words’. Stupid man.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapters 7-8

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Frits Droogstoppel, Max Havelaar, Narrative Perspectives, Scarfman, The Editor, Tina Havelaar on 19/04/2009 at 14:07

You know what really strikes me as interesting in regards to the narrative perspective of this story? The fact that Scarfman rarely ever mentions who he actually is. Never is his name mentioned, let alone his profession or his address, and though he seems to be quite omniscient about all the characters around him, there is no interaction between them. It is as if Scarfman, or whoever the narrator is supposed to be, is a ghost hovering above Max Havelaar’s story; watching events as they unfold, and at the same time providing clues and hints as to what may come in the future. He is at one moment spontaneous in his responses, and the next he has taken a step back from the story and acts as writer once again in addressing the reader and explaining terms or ideas which may be unfamiliar.

                He is also definitely a learned man; for his language is always rich and his digressions thoughtful and interesting. What’s also apparent is his tenderness towards Tina Havelaar! If I didn’t know any better I would have thought that Scarfman adored Tina a little more than is the norm, if you catch my drift. She is painted as a woman simple in taste and needs, poor in money but overflowing in generosity and understanding. But the most definitive feature of Tina’s personality is probably her unconditional love for Max, both ‘big’ and ‘little’. It still makes me smile each time Scarfman reminds us of their relationship by the nicknames: ‘her Max’ and ‘his Tina’. I’ve even started thinking about my wife as ‘my Marieke’ because of this!  

                Anyway, back to the story itself. In chapter 8 Scarfman had written a very long transcript of Havelaar’s first speech at his division’s council meeting. Through his words we truly saw for the first time glimpses of life in Lebak for the local population, and all the hardships and injustices that the authorities throw in the face of the poor Javanese. I would rather not talk about how disgruntled Droogstoppel was when I put my foot down and insisted the speech not be cut in any way. He said it was ‘excessive’ and ‘not relatable’ and that, basically, such overzealous drool would only drive readers away.

My theory is that he can’t stand the fact that the protagonist of this most important story was, as Scarfman mentions, very much a poet. And, he, a man of truth and honor, only a coffee broker, with no novel written about his life. In his jealousy he even pointed out with a laugh (several times) that Havelaar was poor, as if to say, ‘of course the man’s got no money, what can you expect from a poet!’

                Frits and I just ignore him, most of the time. I think we’ve both realized that no matter how poetic and emotional Havelaar’s speeches were, how much trouble he has gotten himself into financially, and how many people find him ‘peculiar’, the fact is, it is this uniqueness, this difference between him and other chiefs and governors, that make him a truly ‘good Assistant Resident’.  Maybe not quite a prophet, but a good man, definitely.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.

The Editor’s Notes: Chapter 5

In Analysis of Plot, Analysis of Structure, Batavus Droogstoppel, Narrative Perspectives, Scarfman, The Editor on 13/04/2009 at 12:14

                It was strange. Like going from a crowded dinner party into the broom closet under the stairs, it was a sort of relief, switching Droogstoppel’s narration for Scarfman’s. There is so much less… dribble. Scarfman’s voice is softer somehow; he does not smother the reader with a billion references to the first-person singular. I quite like the contrast.

                So we decided to go straight in to the story, with as little editing as possible. It was kind of like diving in at the deep end, but I think it’s good that the readers notice immediately the change in tone – something that tells them to straighten up in their chairs because what they’re about to read now is a story as important as any.  

                There was not so much editing to be done; Scarfman wrote with a straightforward, natural hand which made his sometimes long explanations quite bearable to read, for it felt like he was telling it to a friend. His opinions were clear, though not imposing, giving a sense of a man who knew where he stood, and was passionate but at the same time composed, in telling his story.

It was obvious that he sided with the Javanese. He did not praise them to high heavens, no – he recognized their faults as a collective who suffered from “excessive submissiveness” , and as individuals who possess such “princely carelessness”. But in spite of all the Regents who were not much more than robbers, in spite of all the poor who did nothing to change their situation, Scarfman wrote with a bitterness that could only come from one who saw the Javanese as the victims, and the Europeans, the Dutch, as the perpetrator.

It’s difficult for me to read it, and to comb through it like I have to. I don’t want to read that we are oppressing a whole nation this way. I don’t want to know that millions of people are starving because of us. Shouldn’t a poor country prosper under our King’s care? Why do I have this feeling that we are making slaves of a population? And why does Droogstoppel not seem deeply affected by this? All he cares is to make sure that all Malay words are translated correctly.

I’ve cut off the chapter at page 77, at the climax of the passage – where Scarfman has written with the most emotion and resentment. Besides, it has been a long chapter of much information. If any reader is going to understand the novel, it might do them some good to take a pause before we dive into the next section of the story.

The Editor, 44 Prinzengracht, Amsterdam.