Literary Analysis: Gender Issues in This Earth of Mankind, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

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Over the course of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's novel, This Earth of Mankind, a slew of issues relevant to the period of the colonialization of Indonesia by the Dutch are raised. These range from the influence of Western civilizations on the cultures of their Eastern colonies, to the impact of race on the opportunities one would have in Dutch-controlled Indonesia. However, one issue that stands out and is continually brought to light throughout the novel is that of gender, and the roles it inherently imposed upon members of society.Evidence of the role of gender in determining one's position in Dutch Indonesian society is found early in the novel, in the fascinating scene in which Minke meets with Nyai Ontosoroh. Though this scene is near the beginning of the novel, it offers the reader a focused and valuable perspective on gender and its meaning in the Dutch East Indies at the time of the story. Despite the fact that Minke is a guest in Nyai Ontosoroh's home, and that she is clearly a woman of means and authority, he is unsure of how to greet her. He hesitates to offer his hand in greeting, and makes a clear distinction in his mind as to how it is appropriate to greet a European woman and a native woman. He is divided; Nyai Ontosoroh is a native, yet she lives in Dutch custom, speaks Dutch fluently, and lives an affluent lifestyle. Making the distinction between treatment of a Dutch woman, and treatment of a native woman of his own homeland, Minke considers both taking her hand, or even outright ignoring her. However, she proffers her own hand first, to his surprise, and he decides that "if that's how they do things here" (Pramoedya 30), he would treat her respectfully, as he would a European.

This scene is important in highlighting the treatment of women in Indonesian society; it not only illustrates the fact that men considered themselves to be above women in status and worth, but also a duality that existed between treatment of European women and of Native...
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