This Earth Of Mankind Summary

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This Earth Of Mankind

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This Earth Of Mankind Summary

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Translated by Australian scholar and diplomat Maxwell Lane, This Earth of Mankind,was written by Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and follows his alter-ego’s life in Indonesia under colonial Dutch rule. Toer was a prolific writer during his lifetime (1925 – 2006) and most of his essays, short stories, and novels deal with Indonesia’s struggle for independence from the Dutch, occupation by Japan during WW2, and the authoritarian regimes that followed through the 60s and 70s.

Toer’s realistic writings often made him the target of strict regimes, and he was imprisoned by the Dutch government for two years, as well as the authoritarian Suharto regime from 1965 – 1979. Toer wrote exclusively in the native Malay language. He started composing This Earth of Mankind while in jail in 1973; he was not given permission to write the story until 1975. The novel was published in Indonesia in 1980; the first translation of This Earth of Mankind intended for an American audience appeared in 1992.

The book’s themes include the irrevocable harm of colonialism, love across ethnic and class lines, and the essential role of education.

The coming-of-age novel is narrated in the first person by a young Javanese man named Minke. It opens with his reflections on love, and he admits that Minke is not his real name, but he has no urge to share his real name with strangers.The main story takes place 13 years before the novel’s present moment, and Minke relates the story with help from notes he took as a boy, as well as his current dreams and knowledge.

Minke reflects on his life as a schoolboy. He recalls that all of his schoolteachers were thrilled at the “modern” advancements that were arriving in “the Indes” in the late 1920s. Minke is excited too, but in the present he wonders whether the advent of modern technology was implemented carelessly; it is possible that the telegram and automobile, devices that eliminate distances between people and countries, can be harmful to Indonesians.

Minke is from a somewhat wealthy family; they live in the capital, Java. He hopes to be a writer one day, and he’s proud of his juvenile works that have already been published in Dutch-language journals. Because of his family’s prominence, Minke goes to school with other wealthy kids who tend to have some European ancestry, unlike most of the local population. The school is called Hogere Burger School (HBS) and the students receive an excellent education.

As Minke grows to be a teenager, he starts questioning the severe inequality he witnesses everyday. There is an intense snobbery within his high school, as well as a prevailing preference for Dutch culture outside school; the supremacy of all things Dutch helps to keep the native population oppressed. He himself is looked down on for being a native. His mother encourages him to embrace his Javanese identity, but his father dislikes him—mostly he is jealous of his son’s intellect.

Minke’s feelings are complicated and he is eventually prompted into action after he meets Nyai Ontosoroh, the concubine of a prominent Dutch man named Herman Mellema. Like Minke, Ontosoroh does not feel comfortable in either Dutch society or with Indonesians; both condescend to her for being a concubine.

Ontosoroh has two children: the embittered Robert Mellemaand the rather childish Annalies Mellema. Minke ends up falling in love with Annalies, and Robert quickly develops a hatred for Minke. Robert hates all things native; he aspires to be Dutch, but his darker skin color and lack of education (he dropped out of school, believing it was worthless) make it impossible for him to pass.

Ontosoroh loves Annalies, and because she is so closer to her mother, Annalies appreciates her Javanese heritage. Later in the novel, it is revealed that Robert once sexually assaulted Annalies, thus making her less eager to accept her Dutch heritage.

Concubines were so popular among Dutch men in Indonesia that there were strict customs on how their children were to be regarded by society. When their father did not recognize them, they were considered “Native” and attained very few civil rights; the mother of such children became their sole guardian. But if the father admitted they were his, they were called “Indos” and the father became the sole guardian.

Economic hardship forced Ontosoroh into being a concubine, and she does not wish for her children to have a similar fate. So with great pain, she agrees that their father should be the sole guardian. She hopes that the education they receive at HBS will grant them a good job, where they can maintain their dignity.

Meanwhile, Minke and Annalies begin a quiet courtship. He frequently stands up to her against the authoritarian men in her life, including her father, brother, and family doctor, whose remedies for her frequent illness is simply to drug her.

Ontosoroh tells Minke that over time, Herman Mellema has treated her less and less well. It began when she taught herself Dutch and educated herself about western art and history.

Minke and Annalies marry. The ceremony follows the local, Islamic tradition. However, the marriage is not legal because the two were underage and did not get consent from their parents.

Minke is expelled from school because of his sexual relationship with Annalies. But after he writes an article about life among the Natives and Indos, the administration reinstates him as a student. He holds a huge graduation ceremony.

As the novel concludes, Annalies is exiled from Java as a result of Dutch law. The law states that she is an illegitimate wife and an illegitimate daughter and must be re-educated in Europe. As Annalies leaves Indonesia, Minke wonders if peace between the colonizers and the local people can ever be achieved.