Max Havelaar

by Eduard Douwes Dekker

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Characters Discussed

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Max Havelaar

Max Havelaar, a Dutch colonial administrator. An idealist who is deeply concerned with justice for all, he arrives in Java to find conditions among the Javanese laborers worse than he had anticipated. Finding that the Dutch, who rule through the Javanese nobility, have acquiesced in the plundering and mistreatment of the laborers by their native masters, he attempts by persuasion and example to improve the situation while he gathers information for a report to his superiors. When his report is complete, he presents it to one indifferent official after another until he finds himself relieved of his job and forsaken by the government he has served.

Radhen Adhipatti Karta Natta Negara

Radhen Adhipatti Karta Natta Negara, the native regent of Lebak. A relatively poor man with a large family and appearances to keep up, he extorts, under Dutch protection, goods and services from his people. When Max Havelaar lodges an official protest against him, the Javanese is upheld by the Dutch, who denounce Havelaar for his pains.


Tine, Max Havelaar’s devoted wife and champion.

Mr. Verbrugge

Mr. Verbrugge, the controller serving under Max Havelaar. Although he is well aware of the exploitation of the Javanese by the Dutch, he is afraid to risk the security of his job by trying to fight against the complacent colonial administration.

Mr. Slimering

Mr. Slimering, a Dutch colonial official with whom Max Havelaar lodges a protest against the injustices suffered by the Javenese laborers. Slimering denounces the protest in favor of the corrupt native chiefs.


Saïdyah, a young Javanese whose story is used as an example of colonial injustice. His father loses his possessions by extortion, and his betrothed is murdered by Dutch troops; Saïdyah himself is killed later.

Batavus Drystubble

Batavus Drystubble, a Dutch coffee broker of Amsterdam. He does not believe that the Javanese are mistreated.


Shawlman, Batavus Drystubble’s schoolmate, a writer who brings to him the manuscript of the story of Max Havelaar.


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King, Peter. Multatuli. New York: Twayne, 1972. The most comprehensive study of Multatuli available in English. Gives an overview of the book’s complexity as well as its relation to its author’s life. An excellent starting place.

King, Peter. “Multatuli: Some Reflections on Perk, Kloos, and Boon.” In European Context: Studies in the History and Literature of the Netherlands, Presented to Theodore Weevers, edited by P. K. King and P. F. Vincent. Cambridge, England: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1971. Examines Multatuli’s relationship to the Dutch Romantic writers, known as “Tachtigers,” who wrote in his shadow.

Schreurs, Peter. “Multatuli, a Soul-Brother of Rizal.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 14, no. 3 (September, 1986): 189-195. Explores Multatuli’s similarities with nineteenth century Filipino poet José Rizal, showing the relevance of Max Havelaar to discussions of the colonial and the postcolonial condition.

Van den Berg, H. “Multatuli and Romantic Indecision.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall, 1984): 36-47. Discusses the curious mixture of Romanticism and realism in the novel and explores the novel’s roots in Dutch literature.

Van den Berg, H. “Multatuli as a Writer of Letters.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 13, no. 2 (Fall, 1992): 17-22. Examines how the private man of Multatuli’s letters reveals himself in the fiction.

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