Pramoedya Ananta Toer:
The most controversy Indonesian writer
Probably, Pramoedya Ananta Toer is the most controversy Indonesian artist. This is because his life is full of the shocking moments that shocked the nation. Many critics say that he is a great writer in all standard of good writing. However, the others see him as an opportunist person who tries to get the popularity by influencing the authority. Even some consider him as a person who sacrifices other artists just to achieve his own goal.
Pramoedya is considered as one of the greatest writers in Indonesia (Teeuw, 1997). His life journey is very interesting because his career as a writer is not so smooth. He was awarded by many institutions both national and international. He was involved in politics and promoted communism in Indonesia. The path that he chose made him so popular. This essay will describe his life as a great writer and his role in contemporary Indonesian literature.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Pramoedya Ananta Toer was born in 6 February 1925 in Blora, West Java. He is the oldest child in his family. His father was a teacher in a Netherlands’ school in during the colonialism era. His mother was a daughter of Islamic leader in Rembang. When he was young, Pramoedya and his father often had conflicts. This was because Pramoedya considered that his father was not a responsible man. His father started to gamble which had a very bad impact to family’s finance (Teeuw, 1967). He went to a primary school where his father taught. He was not known as a brilliant student (Kurniawan, 1999). After finishing his primary school, he was sent to Surabaya and studied at the Radio Trade School.
In March 1942 he moved to Bandung. That was the time when Japanese soldiers landed in Indonesia and replaced Netherlands’ colonialism for more than three and a half centuries. In May 1942, his mother died and then shortly after that he moved to Jakarta to work there in the Domei press agency. Here, he had an opportunity to learn shorthand and started to be interested in literature. In 1945, when Indonesia proclaimed its independence Pramoedya volunteered for voluntary soldier.
He started to write regularly in 1947 when he worked at the Voice of free Indonesia. In this year he was put in jail by the Dutch police action without the right process. As a prisoner until 1949, he wrote many stories and some novels. He won literary prize from Balai Pustaka, an official publisher for his novel ‘Perburuan’ (Pursuit).
Probably, the most influential event in his life was the time when he was invited to Peking, China in October 1956 to attend the commemoration of the death Lu-Sin. He was very amazed of the result of the Chinese revolution both in socio economy and the national building. He believed that what China achieved was much better than the system that used by many Western countries (Teeuw, 1967). He also believed that the system that China was using was very appropriate to be applied in Indonesia. Having visited China, he involved very deeply in the Indonesian Communist party. This was the beginning of new life for him. His involvement in PKI or Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party) became the only reason for the continuous problems that happen in his life until now.
The Main Themes of Pramoedya’s Works
Most of Pramoedya’s works are based on his own life experience. He often puts some facts or history background in some of his works. Most of his works are full of realism-socialism’ messages (Kurniawan, 1999). His involvement in PKI and its institution has influenced the themes that he chooses in his writings. He admitted that he used literature as a tool to achieve his political goal. This is the main principle of all of his writings.
There are several common themes that can be found in Pramoedya’s works. Some of Pramoedya’s novels are talking about his own family. For example, novel ‘Tjerita dari Blora’ (Story from Blora) is the story of Pramoedya’s childhood in Blora, city where he was born. He told the story by giving the historical background of what were happening in Indonesia. This gives the readers some information about political and social life of people in that era. In most novels about his family, Pramoedya often talks about how he adores his mother as a perfect woman. We can understand how Pramoedya loves his mother very much from his description about how a perfect woman should be. On the contrary, he often describes his father as someone who does not care about his mother feelings.
Another theme that can be found in Pramoedya’s novels is Indonesian revolution. One of his great novel ‘Perburuan’ (Fugitive) is telling the story when Japan colonialised Indonesia. The background of the story is based on the true story of an Indonesian hero, Supriyadi who lead the rebel against Japanese occupation in Blora, where the real event happened (Teeuw, 1997). In this novel, Pramoedya also provides the exact date of the events.
His novel ‘Di tepi kali Bekasi’ (By the river Bekasi) also tells the story of a soldier in Japanese occupation. In this novel, Pramoedya describes the experience of a young soldier who came to the field of battle against Japanese occupation. The spirit of young generation in this era can be found in this novel. The setting of the story can be traced in real location. This means that Pramoedya writes the story based on his own experience as a soldier in Indonesian revolution.
The theme that is also often found in Pramoedya’s works is his experience when he was put in jail during different regimes. His short story ‘Gado-gado’ (the name of Indonesian traditional food which mixes many different vegetables) tells the bitter sweet experience when he was arrested, the reasons behind his arrests and the treatment that he got during his arrests. His novel ‘Mereka yang dilumpuhkan’ (The Paralyzed Ones) tells the story of his life in jail. He describes the all feelings that he had during his life in the world of jail. This novel also tells the story of other prisoners which he listened to.
Pramoedya also writes the social phenomenon in Indonesia as a theme in many his novels. One of the good examples is his novel ‘Korupsi’ (Corruption). This novel is about the story of a civil servant family. The main character is facing a dilemma in his work whether he should keep his loyalty to his office or take the opportunity to corrupt. If he has to be honest and loyal, he will not be able to fulfill his family’s needs with his very low salary. On the other hand, he had a chance to be rich and wealthy by practicing corruption and lying. Then, he finally decided to do the second alternative, to corrupt.
The next day, he started to do a small kind of corruption by selling his office stationary and bought a new tie to change his image as a person. His success followed the further corruption and changed his life into a wealthy family. However, everything then became worse in a long period. He begun getting problems and at the end he was arrested and went to jail as the result of his decision. This story actually represents the real phenomenon event until now in Indonesian society. Pramoedya can transfer the phenomenon into an interesting story which catches the heart of the problem even though he wrote the story more than fifty years ago.
There are many other works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer which catch the social phenomenon in Indonesian society. The way he chooses the characteristics in most of his novels is very unique because he can mix the events in his story with the reality that happened at that era and put Indonesian history as a background. Even tough not all of his writings based on the true story, he has successfully brought his readers into the sense of reality. In this case, Pramoedya has already written the ‘true novel’ in term of good standard of writing (Maier, 2002).
Pramoedya and Awards
As a writer Pramoedya is considered as the best writer that Indonesia has ever had (Teeuw, 1997). All of his works have been appreciated by the public both national and international. Even some of his works which could not be published in Indonesia were the best sellers internationally. Some international institutions have awarded him as the great writer. He has received at least 16 awards (Sugono, 2003). His name once was nominated as the Nobel Prize receiver.
In 1995, Pramoedya Ananta Toer was awarded as the great writer from an institution in Philippines. The name of the award is Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. Ramon Magsaysay was the name of democracy’s hero in Philippines. Pramoedya was also received US$ 50.000,- from the institution. He was considered as a great writer in Asia. His works were believed representing Asian interests. Some critics think that Pramoedya deserves this award after what he has done to the world of writing in Indonesia (Teeuw, 1997).
However, some artists of his generation cannot still forget what he had done to them. Rendra, one of the greatest dramatists and poets in Indonesia said that it is very ironic that Pramoedya gets the award in the freedom of writing while he was once the pioneer of killing other writers’ freedom when he was closed to Sukarno’s regime. Pramoedya was the one who lead destroying other artists’ works who had an opposition to him and his political ambition. He even encouraged Sukarno to prohibit the publish Sastra magazine, that he considered opposing his goal (Moeljanto & Ismail, 1995).
Even, another great writer, Mochtar Lubis, who was once awarded the same award, returned his prize to Manila, as a protest to Pramoedya’s award. He was the writer who got impact when Pramoedya had a power to prohibit any works he didn’t like. There were many other writers sending a protest letter to the award committee.
In 2000, Pramoedya also received The Fukuoka award from Japan and “Le Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” from France. All of the awards are the results of the world appreciation to his works. Most of the awards mentioned that Pramoedya’s works have successfully enlightened the history of the awakening and living of Indonesian people (Sugono, 2003). His works are also considered having given inspirations to many young writers in Indonesia.
Pramoedya and Politics
Pramoedya begun interested in politics after his visit to China in 1956 when he represented Indonesia in a forum. He started reading some works from socialism prominent. The readings had formed his point of view. He saw arts as a tool for politics. Every work in literature should support the politics. After visiting China, Pramoedya started getting involved in politics. He was very amazed by the thoughts of Mao Tse Tung.
In Indonesia he then became very important person in Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the party that could accommodate his thought. Pramoedya played an important role in forming Lekra or Lembaga kebudayaan rakyat (The institution of people culture). This organization was a base for PKI to promote its ideology. Lekra would destroy everyone who opposed them. Lekra influenced the government’s policy to prohibit some works which had different point of view of Lekra’s ideology.
On 17 August 1963, the group which disagreed with Lekra released a statement which was called Manifest Kebudayaan (Cultural Manifest). The group claimed that they opposed the use of art as a political tool (Moeljanto & Ismail, 1995). Lekra was very upset with this group. Then, Pramoedya proclaimed that everyone who involved in the opposition group would be destroyed. Pramoedya recommended to the authority to arrest some Indonesian artists and put them into jail. Two famous names are Hamka and Rendra. The two of them were very tough to oppose government’s policy.
Another artist was H.B. Jassin. Pramoedya influenced the government’s decision to fire H.B. Jassin, a prominent critic in Indonesian literature as a lecturer in The University of Indonesia. Jassin was also one of the artists which opposed the Lekra’s movement which made literature as a political tool. Interestingly, Jassin was the one who helped him to promote his works when he started writing. Probably, this is the evidence that there are no true friends in politics.
Pramoedya used slogans and propagandas through his writings in PKI’s magazine ‘Lentera’. He used his power and skills in writing to spread the ideas and ideology that he believed could bring Indonesia into the better condition as he saw when he visited China. For him, there is no space for other ideology and beliefs other than what he believed (Moeljanto & Ismail, 1995). That was why PKI kept pressuring President Soekarno and influenced him in many political decisions.
Pramoedya and Indonesian Contemporary Literature
So far Pramoedya has produced many great works in term of both good standard of writing and the attention from the public (Teeuw, 1997). His works have been translated into 40 languages. There is no other Indonesian artists can achieve that great success. The way Pramoedya tells the story is very unique. He supports most of his works with data and some research. Most of his works was based on situation of Indonesian revolution.
The great contribution of Pramoedya’s works is that the description of Indonesian society during the awakening of the nation. Many his short stories and novels reflects the real condition of Indonesian society in a particular era. He also often adds his political messages in his writings. However, the messages that he bring does not influence the beauty of his writings (Maier, 2002).
Pramoedya and His Current Life
Up until now Pramoedya’s right as an Indonesian citizen has not been given yet. Like other former Indonesian Communist Party’s members, Pramoedya is still considered as a threat for Indonesia. He is prohibited to give lecture or seminar. Some of his books are still prohibited to be published in Indonesia though they have been already published in other countries.
Pramoedya is a great writer. He can record his life which is full of amazing experiences into great stories that can be enjoyed by other people. He can also provide the readers with evidence and data in most of his works without loosing the feeling of the beauty of arts. He deserves the awards and many praises from many people.
However, his life is not without weakness. His involvement in Lekra as PKI’s institution was very influential to the condition of Indonesian literature in 1960’s. He was the one who provoked to destroy other artists’ works who did not have the same point of view as he did. He also the one who asked the government to take the freedom other artists so that they were suffered and could not do produce any works.
Nowadays, Pramoedya suffered more than his enemies in the past. Since Old Era, he never gets the real independence as a human. The real independence and the rights that he should get are more important the all of the awards he have received. His movement has always been watched by the government agent. In spite of the treatment that he gets from Indonesian government, he is still considered as the great writer who gives a lot of contribution to his country. Probably more than other artists can do.
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