This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

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Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s This Earth of Mankind is an allegorical novel describing the growth of protagonist Minke during the pre-awakening of colonized Java. Set in 1898 during the period of imperial Dutch domination over all aspects of Javan life, the novel provides a clear image of the political and social struggles of a subjugated people through the point of view of a maturing youth. Using several of his novel’s major characters as allegorical symbols for the various stages of awareness the citizens of Java have of Indonesia’s awakening as a modern nation, Toer weaves together an image of the rise of an idyllic post-colonial Indonesia with modern views of Enlightenment ideals.
Toer’s portrayal of Annelies Mellema as innocent and childish is symbolic of a naïve pre-colonial Java before the corruption of Dutch influence. Her birth being the result of a unique relationship between a Dutch colonizer and Javan concubine known as Nyai Ontosoroh, Annelies exhibits physical features of both cultures. Annelies is characterized as being a girl that is “white-skinned and refined with a European face and the hair and eyes of a Native” representing the crossing of two cultures within Java (Toer 25). Despite her capability of helping her mother Nyai Ontosoroh run their family business, Annelies remains submissive and allows various authority figures in her life like her mother, doctor, and husband Minke to make life decisions on her behalf. This, coupled with her physical fragility that is especially apparent in the form of illness whenever Minke is absent from her life for extended periods of time is Toer’s method of illustrating the weakness of pre-colonial Indonesia that is eventually conquered and forever changed by the Dutch. Despite h...

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...id”, this act of hypocrisy leads Minke to inform the masses of the injustice he is served (Toer 310). This inspires the rebellion that leads the Javan independence movement that is discussed in Toer’s later novels.
Toer’s use of allegorical and symbolic language in this novel weaves a picture of the growth of the Javan/Indonesian independence movement that led to the birth of a nation. The metaphor of Minke’s changing perspective upon his self-identity and principles of the Enlightenment reflect the turmoil Toer witnessed with his own eyes. Rather than settle for the corrupt nature of Javan society through Dutch rule, Toer asserts, through the writing of this novel, that a society that holds the ideals of modern and Enlightened thinking will rise to be successful.

Works Cited

Toer, Pramoedya Ananta. This Earth of Mankind. New York; London: Penguin, 1996. Print.
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