Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro


There is no doubt that Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a force to reckon with within and without Indonesian society. This can be gleaned by the popularity of his books, which are perhaps the best references as far as far as Indonesian culture is concerned. In his new novel, The Girl from

the Coast, thi s author vividly dissects the Javanese culture, especially during the colonial period. The novel, which can be said to be of feminist leaning, is set in the colonial period. It richly describes the religion, traditions, values and class relations in Javanese in the early twentieth century, when the country was under the Dutch rule.

Pramoedya brings out the struggle that women in this culture had to live. This is brought out through the characters that Pramoedya creates and ingeniously injects them with life and purpose. The story revolves around a nameless girl who is married off at the age of fourteen to a local aristocrat. She is known throughout the story as Gadis Pantai, “the girl from the coast”, not by her real name. This brings out the insignificant role that women play in this society. She is married off to a man who she refers to as “Bendoro”, a term not describing a husband but a master.

But the real story of the story oozes from Bendoro, the Javanese aristocrat to whom the girl is married. Despite the fact that he remains in the shadows of the book, behind the silhouette of the women that Pramoedya tells the story through, he is nevertheless a chief element in the direction that the book takes. The fact that he remains in the shadows for the better of the book perfectly fits his reclusive character, but it also brings out the theme of the story perfectly. The reader cannot fail to notice an aura of authority behind this man. From the way he treats his women to the way that he is regarded in the village. This paper is going to discuss how this character Bendoro represents a certain kind of authority. His values, the extent to which he lives up to them and their limits will also be discussed.

Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro

Bendoro: A Figure of Authority

It is obvious that Bendoro exudes authority, albeit a silent form of authority, throughout the book. This can be gleaned from several scenes where he makes an entrance, either directly or through proxy. It is this authority that Pramoedya uses to paint a picture of how men treat women in this society; how gender inequality permeates the fabric of Indonesian society. In the face of their men’s authority, women can only cower, not daring to question or oppose it (O’Hehir: 20). This is made worse if the man happens to be of loyal descent, like in the case of Bendoro.

The authority permeating from the very personality of Bendoro is not only utilized by Pramoedya to portray gender inequality in Indonesia, but also class inequality (O’Hehir: 20). The fishermen community, a poor but tightly knit community, has no say in front of the aristocracy. That is the reason why Bendoro, through his servants, was able to marry a girl that he wished, despite the fact that the girl has never seen, and he himself never attended the wedding (O’Hehir: 21).

There are several scenes in the book that can be used to show the authority that Bendoro had, together with the values that are riding on this authority. These are as indicated below:

1. He Spots a Girl and is able to Marry          her

A servant of the nobleman spots a young girl who is from a poor, fisherman’s family in the village. The girl is beautiful, but she is also very young, aged all of fourteen years. The servant lets it known to his master that there is a beauty in the village worth his attention (O’Hehir: 22). His master, Bendoro, an educated aristocrat, wastes no time in making it known to the parents of the girl that he will marry her.

Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro

The parents of the girl gleefully agree to marry her off to a man that she has never met. Even though they had no choice, they are happy to accept the proposal of the man because their daughter will not live again in poverty (O’Hehir: 21). This fact is vividly captured when the girl’s mother reproaches her for crying as she is been led to her new abode. “You mustn’t cry. You are the wife of an important man” she tells her (O’Hehir: 22).

It is only an authoritative man who can have such influence over the parents of a minor. A girl who was, according to Pramoedya, “a wisp of a thing” (O’Hehir:21). This is not to mean that this practice was not rife in this society, but under normal circumstances, the parents would have exhibited a semblance of resistance.

2: Bendoro, too Busy to Attend his Wedding

To underscore his authority, Bendoro did not even go to the village to betroth to the girl. He sent back the servant who had spotted the beauty for him. Pramoedya says that “the man returned….to the home of the girl’s parents” (O’Hehir: 22). As if this was not enough, Bendoro

did not have the time to attend the wedding. He was married in absentia. We are told that “(she is) the wife of a keris………a dagger representing her husband to be, a man she has never met” (O’Hehir: 21).

3: Bendoro, the Owner of an Imposing Building

Sometimes in life, the authority that we have is rarely reflected through our personality. Rather, it is aptly reflected through the things that we surround ourselves with. They are the ones that best purvey the amount and kind of authority that we have.

Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro

This was the case in “Girl from the Coast”. Pramoedya expresses the status that Bendoro occupies in the society through the things that he owns. On page eight of the novel, he describes how the bridal party was awestruck by the sight of Bendoro’s house. “….high-roofed

building visible from the outside. (it appeared) like a receiving pavilion for the main house beside it” (O’Hehir: 21). With such surroundings, Bendoro need not do or say anything for the Javanese community to realize that he is oozing with authority. This is especially so considering the fact that these people are from poor background.

4: He Marries Many Wives

Polygamy is nothing worth of raising eyebrows in Indonesia. But polygamy the like of which is exhibited by Bendoro raises more than eyebrows. This man has the audacity to marry and divorce women with a rate never before experienced in this society. The “Girl” realizes that she is not the wife to this big man, but just a “practice” woman; a woman to sate the occasional desires of his loins (O’Hehir: 21).

The girl witnesses many children that are without their mothers in this man’s residence. She is told by Mbok that the mothers were divorced. Judging by the number of children in the household, it is not hard to guess the rate of women turnover here. This is an indication of the authority that the man wields not over the women of this village, but also over the society (O’Hehir: 20). No man will marry and divorce at that rate, even in this male chauvinistic society.

5: Bendoro Chases Away Mbok for Insubordination

This man does not only hire his servants, but he also owns them. This means that they have to do his biding, and woe unto the poor fellow who tries to stand up to this man. This attribute of his personality is indicated by the way he treats his servants (O’Hehir: 20). It is another indication of the authority that he wields over those around him.

Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro

He sends away Mbok, one of the “girl’s” elderly servants, because she was advising the girl. Her place is taken by Mardinah, who is suspected to be employed as a spy for the master (O’Hehir: 21).


Bendoro’s Values

From the above discourse, it can be deduced that Bendoro holds some values that are dear to his heart. This is regardless of the fact that some, if not all, of the values are skewed. One of them is that he regards women as objects, not as human beings. This is clear by the way he treats them. He marries and divorces them as he likes, when their use to him is gone. He is even of the view that they cannot raise his children. That is the reason why they have to leave behind their children.

He also values worldly possessions. This can be deduced by the kind of house that he lives in, and the kind of life that he leads. He does not shy away from the comforts that money and status can provide. He has a battery of servants who are committed to him. These are the ones that ensure that all of his needs are catered for, even if he rarely appreciates them. It is his servant who spotted the girl from the Java coast. It is the servants, like Mbok, who cater for his wives so that they can give him maximum satisfaction. It is also the servants who look after his many children.


O’Hehir, William B. “Girl from the Coast: Book Review.” Lubbock: Cengen Books, 2008. 20-22.

Character Analysis in “Girl From the Coast”: Bendoro