The central character of The Girl from the Coast was based on Pramoedya’s grandmother. This girl, never identified by name, lives with her parents in a fishing village on the coast of Java. When she is fourteen, word of her beauty reaches the local bendoro, a Javanese aristocrat in the service of the Dutch colonial overlords. The nobleman sends word to her family that she is to become his wife. Filled with hope for their daughter’s future, her mother and father agree to have her married in a ceremony in which the groom is absent and is represented by a dagger.
The parents accompany their child to the great man’s house in the city. There, they find a disturbing omen of their daughter’s future. A servant is caring for a baby, the child of a previous wife who had been divorced and dismissed at the bendoro’s whim.
The servant, Mbok, becomes the personal servant and caretaker of the girl. The girl grows to depend on Mbok, who tells her stories and gives her advice on adjusting to the strange ways of the aristocracy. Among the stories is Mbok’s own tale of how she and her husband were taken away from their village by the Dutch to work on a plantation. After the pregnant Mbok had been kicked in the stomach by a foreman, killing the unborn child, her husband ran amok and was killed by soldiers. Jailed and then let go to fend for herself, Mbok had eventually ended up in the service of the bendoro. Mbok is sympathetic to the girl, but also aware of her own complete dependence on her employer. Mbok’s integrity, courage, and care for the girl lead to the servant’s downfall.
After some of the male relatives of the bendoro, who live in the house, help the girl clean her room, the girl’s wallet proves to be missing. She is distraught, since this wallet contained money for household expenses. When the relatives respond to Mbok’s inquiry with contempt, Mbok brings the matter before the bendoro. The lord discovers the thief and orders him to leave the house, but Mbok is also dismissed. She had dared to...
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