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“Coffee with Max Havelaar” – Debate/discussion: Droogstoppel vs. Scarfman.

In Coffee with Max Havelaar on 17/04/2009 at 14:31

Host: Welcome ladies and gentle to the final and most anticipated episode of “Coffee with Max Havelaar”. Today, we’re bringing two principle narrators in the novel, Droogstoppel and Scarfman themselves, and watch them verbally battle in all their glory while we watch them as amusement. Let’s give them a round of applause… (Audience cheers). So…our topic today is POVERTY. Let’s begin with Mr. Droogstoppel, shall we? What are your opinions on this issue?

Droogstoppel: Well, I’m certain than poverty is nothing but a false illusion if you ask me. For example, when we see people begging on the sidewalks and streets; one can’t ALWAYS assume that it’s not their fault…for all we know that scoundrel who resorted to chopping off his right arm so passers-by would pity him could have gotten into a rather shameful situation where he gambled more than half his fortune, and now has to live off scraps and his dirty pity money.

Scarfman:  That’s absurd! What if it was a poor widow bearing sick children in her arms? Should we not find in our hearts to aid her even in the smallest ways during her time of hardship? 

Droogstoppel:  Aid her how exactly? Give her food? Ha! I tried that once during a trip in Java, and it didn’t end quite well.

Host: Tell us about it. 

Droogstoppel: Well, I was in my carriage while crossing the market place in Banten, while a group of young panhandlers approach the vehicle and start asking for money. I assure you that had I carried some extra change in my wallet, I would have had something material to spare. But…all that was in my possession was 20 stivers, and a packet of krupuks which I had recently purchased.

Host: Which did you give up? 

Droogstoppel: One of my oranges, of course. You could hardly imagine that I would actually distribute my extra money on people who would most certainly be able to earn just as much by doing some proper work! But the devil…did you know what they did next? Chucked the packet right back at me! In my face! It was preposterous and violent! The values of these beggars truly shock me sometimes…

Scarfman: But my dear Droogstoppel, think of their circumstances! Perhaps these “scoundrels” you talk of depend on money not always for food, but perhaps for security and other outside influences. Think of their background! 

Droogstoppel: Ha! What influences? Drugs and alcohol? Bullies? You see, this all goes back to whose fault it is again! It’s either corruption or laziness; caused by themselves or their parents.  

Scarfman: I disagree.

Droogstoppel: (Snorts) Yes, well, you’re one to say Scarfman, which would you do? I bet you would not even be able to afford an orange…with your so-called career and all. Being a businessman is so much more rewarding than concocting written lies. 

Audience: BOOO! (He did NOT just say that)

Scarfman: A-hem. I think you mean FIC-TION, and I assure you that it is just as rewarding. 

Host: (This is just too funny.)

Droogstoppel: Yes why do you waste so much time on it? It’s nothing but a great conundrum of LIES! 

Scarfman: Fiction is not a conundrum of “lies”, Droogstoppel. It is art, and unlike you, I wager I could find a million people in this world would consider it essential in this world.

Droogstoppel: You CAN’T be serious. 

Scarfman: Fiction allows us to convert art into words and form stories in which there are no boundaries! It allows us to play with language as though it were clay and sprout emotions in readers which they never would have known to exist! To be frank, fiction is one of the primary sources of imagination. There is no doubt about it.

Droogstoppel: Imagination like what? Saïja-Adinda? That’s not imagination! Imagination is being creative, and being creative means being productive in ways that are possible, plausible, and realistic. That’s how it should work. A family loses three buffaloes, a boy promises his future wife that he will go on a journey to find work, and return to meet her under a tree after God knows how long…the very idea seems undeniably unrealistic to me! At least Adinda dies…that was perhaps the most sensible thing that could happen…    

Scarfman: (fuming) You are truly an oppressive man! Multatuli was right about you.

Droogstoppel: And I don’t deny it! But wait, I do recall that he once mentioned something about you and your wife…”Wretched spawn of sordid money-grubbing and blasphemous cant” who “grew into a monster” under his pen, “loathes his own handiwork”, and…oh, yes, advises you to “choke in coffee and disappear”. Heh! You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!  

Scarfman: All people on earth are EVIL! This horrid oppression must end, I say! And God will take you down first, Droogstoppel!

Host: Alright…this seems to be getting ugly, and a bit off topic. Well then ladies and gentlemen! That’s the end of “Coffee with Max Havelaar”! Hope you’ve had a good insight!



“Coffee with Max Havelaar”: the mental universe of a coffee broker, 37 Lauriergracht.

In Coffee with Max Havelaar on 16/04/2009 at 21:11

Host: Welcome back ladies and gentlemen! Now…we’ve looked at the characters of Max Havelaar, Saïja and Adinda, as well as Scarfman, but I feel we should take a better look inside the mind of Batavus Droogstoppel, coffee broker from Last & Co, and resident of 37 Lauriergracht in Amsterdam – as he so fondly and frequently reminds us. 


Host: Now, now, I realize most of the readers do not get the best impressions of him when he introduces himself, but upon my word, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person quite like him! Multatuli, how would you describe this truly unique character which you have created? 

Multatuli:  Batavus Droogstoppel, as we know, is a thorough outsider in this novel, not only by means of setting, but especially in the manner in which he speaks to you as readers. If you run through the novel, you will soon observe that there is hardly an indication of changing perspectives.

Host: Yes, and I thought that was one of the characteristics which really ‘stylized’ the structure.   

Multatuli: However, Droogstoppel’s style of writing is so bold and forward, that once we are accustomed to it, we can immediately recognize him in the story. Now, in terms of his character and personality, I assume that most readers would perceive him simply as the complete opposite of Max Havelaar himself.

Host: In what ways?

Multatuli: Well, first of all, he is unconditionally self-concerned.

“Later on, I heard that the Greek had given him a drubbing, but because it’s a firm principle of mine never to meddle with things that don’t concern me, I ran away immediately.” – 30

Then, we know he is extremely judgmental of people around him. He carries a very closed-minded nature, and finally, he is considerably (and at times, far too much) truthful.  

Host: There is something else which I noticed. In the novel, Droogstoppel seems to assume that the readers of Max Havelaar would always be male. Does this reflect patriarchy in the Dutch nation as a whole, or does it prove that Droogstoppel is – in addition to self-righteous, judgmental, and closed-minded – a chauvinist as well.

Multatuli: This can be open to interpretation. It does make his character all the more unlikable, but in a way, I also intended his perspective (which can be represented as the party who Max Havelaar himself tries to rebuke, I suppose) to be comical. 

Host: Plus, a different point of view, such as Droogstoppel, also always adds depth and conflict in a story, doesn’t it? Well, ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, today will be the finale of discussion on Max Havelaar’s characters and plot, so I’m sad to say that Mr. Multatuli will not be joining us next episodeL. Let’s give him a good round of applause and bid him a safe Journey to Amsterdam, the final destination for his book tour in Europe.

Audience: (Applause, cheers) 

Host: However, this is not the end of “Coffee with Max Havelaar”, as we will be welcoming some special guests into the show to debate two consecutive topics. Join me again next time!


“Coffee with Max Havelaar” – Saïja-Adinda and the Max Havelaar Film.

In Coffee with Max Havelaar on 16/04/2009 at 13:36

Host: Welcome back to “Coffee with Max Havelaar”! You know, in the book, there is one event which has been recounted through a style which I feel is extremely unlike the others in the story – the tale of Saïja and Adinda (chapter 17). To be honest, I consider this “monotonous” story (as Scarfman describes it) actually the complete opposite of boring. It is perhaps the most influential and moving events in the novel, because generally, both Droogstoppel and Scarfman have a very ‘analytical’ air in their writing – focusing on conflicts and reactions to an event rather than the events itself. In this short story however, a true literary ‘depth’ is achieved; a depth which is so conventional to every-day readers. There is a defined, how you would say…’arc’ which gives it a fine vibrancy…that stereotypical journey of love which a hero undertakes to reach his goal. Although some people would consider this rather cliché, this part seemed to be a kind of subtle link throughout the story.

Multatuli, tell us, what makes Saïja and Adinda’s love story – something which is so isolated from the events which Scarfman in particular brings about – especially significant? 

Multatuli: I suppose this simply elaborates on Scarfman’s analysis of the story. The ‘falling apart’ of Saïja and Adinda’s relationship is a consequence of oppression in Java, where this story was set. This is an important issue which is battled with in the characters’ stories. It is also similar to the case of Max Havelaar’s individual character. Although Saïja and Adinda’s story is more fictional, I wanted the consequences of oppression to create strong emotional reactions in the readers. I wanted them to feel sad for Saïja when he found Adinda’s mangled, lifeless body, and I wanted to sprout anger against those who were responsible for his broken heart.


Long has the belly of my bajing been filled…

Long has he been back in the comfort of his nest…

But ever my soul

And my heart are bitterly sad…ADINDA!

– Page 271

Host: I’ve also heard that an Indonesian film was produced quite recently named Saija-Adinda based on the events from your novel. It’s a shame it’s in Indonesian, but I’ve found some information on it right here on WordPress.

Multatuli: Yes, I’ve heard of it, but it seems to be a modernized adaption of the events. More like a teenage drama.

Host: That’s true. But the actual 1976 film – Max Havelaar – directed by…Fons Rademakers? Yes, that seems to have had a greater success. Unfortunately, this one was in Dutch, so I couldn’t understand it either, and not to mention that it lasted for at least three hours! But I heard it was competing for an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

A screen-shot from the film ( Max seems to have a striking resemblance to you, Multatuli, doesn’t he?(Multatuli’s portrait can be found through this link:

Multatuli: Ha! You should have really seen me when I was young and handsome! But I suppose the actor is quite…fitting.

Host: Haha! Tina is also exactly how I pictured her in the novel! Well ladies and gentlemen…I’m afraid my dose of caffeine has timed out again. We’re going for a refill of Starbucks. Join us again next time only on     

“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”.


“Coffee with Max Havelaar” – introduction (episode 1)

In Coffee with Max Havelaar on 25/03/2009 at 10:56

Host: Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to our brand-new web-show, “Coffee with Max Havelaar”! *applause* Yes, yes, the book was so fantastic that we decided to take it to the next level. So before we get started let’s get just a little insight for those who have no inkling of who Max Havelaar is exactly *laughter from audience*. In the novel, this man did great things to battle against a corrupt government system in Java, which as we know was a Dutch colony during the 1860’s – the time the book was written. Today, the character holds a strong reputation in the Max Havelaar Foundation – the Dutch member of FLO International, which unites 23 Fairtrade producer and labelling initiatives across Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. But before we go on any further into what the novel is about, let’s give a warm welcome to first and most important guest on the show – the author himself, Multatuli! *Crowd cheers, Multatuli does a victory dance as he enters the room, and the band starts playing jazz music.* 

Host: So, Mr. Eduard Douwes Dekker (can I just call you Multatuli?) 

Multatuli: *laughs*, yes of course.

Host: So tell us about how you were inspired to write Max Havelaar.

Multatuli: Yes, well it all began during 1857, when I was transferred to Lebak, in the Bantam residency of Java (now Banten province).

Host: And I assume that by that time, all the secrets of Dutch administration were known to you, yes?

Multatuli: Yes, quite, and that was when I began to protest about the abuses of the colonial system. Consequently I was threatened with dismissal from my office for my “openness of speech”. However, I resigned my appointment and returned to the Netherlands. In 1860, in an act of further protestation, I wrote Max Havelaar, and I was pleased to see that it was successful; been read all through Europe.

Host: And I agree that it is still one of the most influential reads.Well, that’s it for today ladies and gentlemen, please give another round of applause to Multatuli, who will also be joining us next episode to discuss the elements of the novel. Thank you for joining us!