Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 597
Although there are a vast amount of names mentioned throughout Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, the characters mentioned here are individuals given extra emphasis or attention by the author. This does not mean that if a name is not included, it is not important to the overall message or “plot” of Winchester’s book. Additionally, due to the way Winchester describes the geographical features of Krakatoa and other land masses, one could argue that the author may be personifying places like Krakatoa, which could qualify them as characters.
Throughout Krakatoa, the author himself, Simon Winchester, acts as the narrator, detailing the historical and geographical backgrounds of Krakatoa, the surrounding area, and those who were directly affected by it. For example, Winchester pulls from the experiences of witnesses to the eruption such as Captain Hollmann, the captain of the German warship, Elisabeth, that was the first to see the beginning of a Krakatoan eruption.
Additionally, he also writes about the experience of William Logan, the captain of the Berbice, who describes the danger he and his crew were in because of the close distance between his ship and Krakatoa.
Others like Rogier Verbeek, an engineer that wrote a “546-page study of the great eruption of [Krakatoa]” and drew the islands, and H. J. G. Ferzenaar, a Dutch soldier that surveyed Krakatoa and was the last person to visit Krakatoa before its eruption, are essential to understanding what occurred to the landscape before the eruption (Winchester 113).
Winchester uses Javanese figures like Haji Abdul Karim, a Javanese mystic and “leader of a powerful local Sufi movement” that seemed to predict Krakatoa’s eruption and Raden Ngabahi Ranggawarsita, a Javanese poet that composed a mostly fictitious book on the history of Java, as a way to help the reader picture what contemporary Javanese culture was like (Winchester 204).
He also includes some of the Javanese mythology as he describes the impact of Orang Alijeh, the “Javan god and mountain ghost” of Krakatoa (Winchester 40). Winchester even incorporates his own personal experiences in interacting with Javanese locals like Sikin, who is responsible for monitoring the activity at Krakatoa and an unnamed forester who describes the modern economy and culture of Java.
Contemporary scientists such as Alfred Russel Wallace, a geographer/biologist that theorized on the importance of biology and geography in natural selection, and J. Tuzo Wilson, who is considered the father of of plate tectonics play a key role in helping develop the scientific background of Krakatoa (Winchester 43, 72).
Towards the end of Krakatoa, Winchester also emphasizes various scientists such as Cornelis Backer, Edmond Cotteau, and William Syer Bristowe, who were important to theorizing and rediscovering the existence of life on surrounding islands post-eruption. This is important to the ending of the novel, as it is these characters that are responsible for reestablishing interest in whether or not scientists should continue studying Krakatoa, which helps with subjects like speciation and geography as well as providing data for what could happen in an area with volcanic activity.
Lastly, Winchester describes Dutch officials such as Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who is regarded as a “founding father of the Dutch empire in the Orient” and acted as governor-general and Herman Willem Daendels, “a Napoleonic maréchal” charged with protecting Batavia from the British (Winchester 31, 97). However, Winchester also uses Krakatoa as a way to describe the negative impact that the Dutch had on the islands. He does so through Christopher Schweitzer, a German soldier who detailed the actions of VOC security officers, and Eduard Douwes Dekker, a Dutch official who wrote Max Havelaar, which detailed Dutch mistreatment of the Javanese.