Throughout Pramoedya Ananta Toer's novel, This Earth of Mankind, a multitude of social justice issue arise amongst the Dutch colonization of Indonesia. The European cultural influence truly suffocated the local natives to the point where social structure and class took precedence over knowledge, talent, and experience.
Native Indonesians where seen as inferior to the Dutch colonials and race was thus correlated with class. Race refers to whether someone is Native Indonesian, Indo, or European. The Dutch and those from European descent where assumed to be the most civilized, cultured, and superiorly educated.Indos are associated with the middle class and Natives occupy the lowest class. It was hard for individuals to break these cultural barriers, but even more so to look past the gender divide. Along with these class divisions the area was littered with gender incongruity. This Earth of Mankind is the story of an uncommonly brilliant Native man named Minke.
He falls in love with an Indo woman named Annelies, but their relationship is put into jeopardy by class separation and discrimination of the sexes.This inequality between sexes is continually brought to light throughout the novel, and the roles it imposed upon members of society influenced each character’s thoughts, actions, and beliefs. The first encounter of gender based discrimination occurs when Minke arrives at Nyai Ontosoroh’s household. Nyai is a native woman and mother to Minke’s future spouse Annelies. Minke is invited to the house through the recommendation of his schoolmate Robert Suurhof. He states that although Nyai’s daughter is indeed beautiful he deserves, “only a goddess with Pure European blood,” (29) and therefore she is below him.This represents a cultural divide, but Minke experiences a gender related issue when meeting Nyai.
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Nyai was an Indonesian concubine, which meant she was a mistress to a Dutch man. She was taught the Dutch language, European culture, and high class mannerisms. These aspects of Nyai confused Minke. Nyai was indeed knowledgeable and cultured, but her class as a Native and her status as a woman allowed Minke to second guess his acknowledgment of her. “I hesitated. Should I offer my hand as to a European woman, or should I treat her as a Native woman and ignore her? (29)Minke was the guest at Nyai’s home and although she welcomed him openly, Minke was hesitant to even touch the woman. This represents the generalized thought of most men in Indonesia.
It is obvious that the distinction between men and women is incredibly important culturally and that men absolutely feel superior to women. Another element to this conversation is the different treatment received by Native women and European women. Native women are to be ignored, while European women are meant to be respected.Because of the culturally based caste system and the distinction between men and women, each interaction manifests itself within a certain criteria. Men interact with other men based on their social class, while people of opposite sexes must take into account social class and gender based discrimination before interacting. Another representation of Native women being degraded comes from Minke’s impression of Nyai’s occupation. The relationship between Minke and Nyai is the most interesting aspect of This Earth of Mankind.
Nyai’s self education befuddles Minke, he struggles with the culturally appropriate way to address her. She is both Native and educated. The struggle intensifies when he takes into account Nyai’s marital status. She is a concubine for a European man named Herman Mellema. Although she is in a relationship with a European man, her reputation is that of a sinner. Through Minke’s friendship with Annelies, Nyai reveals herself as a strong, loving, and honorable mother. Minke relates Nyai to his own mother, but quickly corrects himself stating, “Beware, don’t equate her with mother.
She is just a nyai, living in sin, giving birth to illegitimate children, low in moral character, selling honor to live easily and in luxury. ” (32) Minke believes this because Nyai has devoted her life to a man without being bonded by marriage. Traditionally, nyai are only responsible for the household and to bear children. This conflicts with Nyai’s situation because she carries out many more duties. Nyai is not only the caretaker of her child and the household, but she also runs her husband’s business.Minke is able to look beyond Nyai’s sex and caste because of her sophistication and success. “There were too many new things, which my teachers had never mentioned, that proceeded from her lips.
Remarkable. ” (46) His admiration of Nyai stemmed from the numerous days and nights he began to spend with the family. Minke was falling in love with Annelies and as their relationship strengthened so too did his respect and awe for Nyai. These cultural and gender based barriers where being broken down through respectful and intellectual dialogue and the mutual acceptance of each individual.Annelies also provides an important perspective on Minke’s mindset transformation. The attitude of Annelies extends beyond the bounds considered normal for women in Indonesian society. She is extremely outgoing and straightforward, aspects that originally perplexed Minke.
Comparatively speaking, Minke only knew women to be quiet, indifferent, and respectful towards men. Annelies takes after her mother Nyai. She is confident and strong, but also accepting and fair. Her intelligence and sophisticated mannerisms reflect Nyai. She also looks over numerous workers on the Mellema’s estate.These traits all represent the personalities of high class European woman, but strangely Annelies only wishes to be a Native. “I don’t want to be an Indo.
I only want to be like Mama. ” (31) This quote from Annelies describes her passion for a culture that is relatively looked down upon. Annelies is the descendant of a European man and a Native woman, making her an Indo. As stated previously, an Indo man or woman is placed within the middle class above Natives, but below Europeans. Curiously, Annelies chooses the lower class Native rather than the middle class Indo.Annelies and Nyai are two strong women who understand their identity. Rather than trying to change who they are, Annelies and Nyai excel despite their cultural deficiencies.
Continuing with Minke’s immersion into gender equalization, one certain event was particularly eye-opening. While Minke toured Nyai’s farm, Annelies took Minke to a room where her workers produced cow’s milk. Minke was astounded when he discovered women working alongside men. “Some where women; you could tell from the batik kains below their white shirts. Women working in business. Wearing calico shirts too!Village women wearing coats! And not in their own kitchens! ” (35) Minke grew up within a strict patriarchal society and when he witnessed women working outside the home, his amazement was apparent. Because of the absolute control held by males, Minke was surprised even to see women wearing shirts.
The male dominance within the Indonesian society was deeply rooted in tradition. Minke, as an educated man, was able to see beyond the stereotypes and form his own opinions. Minke was beginning to appreciate Annelies and Nyai not because of their sex or class, but because of their intrinsic worth.The last major example within This Earth’s Mankind that demonstrates the inequality of sexes happens much later in the novel. Annelies and Minke grow very close. They are married within the Islamic faith and are very much in love. Conflict occurs when Annelies is taken by a European man for marriage.
Because an Islamic marriage is not recognized by the Dutch or the Christian faith, Annelies can be forced to marry a Dutch man. Maurits, Annelies’ suitor, plans to take her away from Minke and bring her to the Netherlands. A court case commences and Nyai takes the stand in favor of Minke and Nyai.She believes that love should take precedence over any arranged or purchased marriage. “Are such purchases truer than pure love? ” (287) The judge of the case immediately silences Nyai stating, “She is an Indo, an Indo, she’s above you! Minke is a Native, though with forum privilegiatum, the right to appear before this court, meaning he’s above you, Nyai, but his forum can be canceled at a moment’s notice. But Miss Annelies remains above Natives forever. ” (287) Although Nyai was the mother of Annelies she held no legal power over her.
Annelies was an Indo and therefore not part of Nyai’s world.She could not help her daughter and her words became irrelevant because of her class and sex. I believe the most powerful statement written in This Earth of Mankind was Nyai’s response to the judge, “Who turned me into a concubine? Who turned us all into nyais? European gentlemen, made masters. Why in these official forums are we laughed at? Humiliated? Or is it that you gentleman want my daughter to become a concubine too? ” (288) Exhausted with an unfair system, Nyai pleads for her daughter’s life. In a male dominated society, Nyai’s words hold zero worth.It is sad and pathetic that the woman who cared for and raised Annelies has no control over her future. This Earth of Mankind is a powerful and thought provoking story that allows readers to immerse themselves within the Dutch East Indies’ culture during the 19th century.
Minke’s story illustrates the intense social justice issues involving class, culture, and sex. Gender and more specifically the role of women takes forefront in the lives of Annelies and Nyai. Pramoedya’s book provides an inestimable perspective on the inequality and gender issues that flooded the colonization within Indonesia.
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