Narrative Structure (6): Sukarno as Dalang - Betjaks & Billy - Puppetry - Timeline - Hinduism
1. SPACE, SETTING. Like QA, YD has as its main setting a major Southeast Asian city as well as important secondary settings. How do the following settings relate to the following aspects of the novel?
- Jakarta: 49, 209: explosive tension
- Tugu (Chapter 14: 147-8, 151, 153, 162-5): politics
- the countryside (115-116t, 121m, 147-148t, 162m163t, 196t, 276t-m): the Wayang and the Mother Goddess
- the outskirts of Bandung (Chapter 17: 188-196): the Wayang and cultural awareness
- the slum where Ibu lives vs. the Hotel Indonesia: poverty vs. wealth
- Billy's bungalow (starting on 73-75, continued at the café with the Micky Mouse murals on 88m-91m; Chapter 10 --115-126, etc.): the Wayang, poverty vs. wealth, religion, Billy's 'puppet-master' files, etc.
- Cookie's cousin's hilltop farm in Australia (81-82t) and Cookie's hotel in New Delhi (255-256t): narrative structure
Chapter 1: Bar & Street
How does Koch use the contrast between bar and street to introduce the main characters as well as issues related to economics, politics, and culture?
The Wayang & Betjaks
How is the Wayang used in the bar? How is it linked to the betjaks in the street? How are the betjaks linked to the poor, as opposed to the wealthy in the Wayang Bar and Hotel Indonesia?
How are betjaks used to push (both literally and metaphorically) into realms where questions of morality are paramount?
3b-4t "[Billy] was squinting about him ... villains of the wayang kulit"
11m "I would never say such a thing of our President ... coming down from heaven in his magic car"
13t-m "the wayang puppets up on the walls [...] seemed to watch us with pensive contempt ... Emerging from the Wayang, Hamilton and Kwan entered the Hotel's wide, brightly-lit arcade ... Most of them can't afford to step foot here ... It's only for the generals and politicians"
15m-16m "Passing out of the Hotel's neutral compound into Jakarta ... the forbidden, glowing stage of the arcade ... the betjaks creaked into motion like a flock of ponderous birds, wheeling towards them ... the showpiece highway was already cracked and pot-holed ... Sukarno's world of paper, and capital letters"
18m-19b "two of the betjaks had now wheeled off ... It's up to Sukarno, don't you think?"
20b "Ah, he came to the same conclusion ... Hamilton noticed now the betjak called Tengah Malam had not gone far away ... you don't think about the so-called big issues, or changing the system, but you deal with whatever misery is in front of you -- and the little bit of good that you do adds its light to the sum of light."
22b "And while Hamilton stared after him ... Kwan concealed by its antique hood"
linking words & images into lines of argument
Chapter 1 (3-22)
Make a line of argument that incorporates some of the following:
the Wayang - theatre - betjak - glowing stage of the arcade - hero & villain - limousine & luxury ship - bird - wheeling - threadbare, worn - blue - dark - light
Note how some of these words, images, symbols, ideas, and suggestions are carried into Chapters 2 and 5:
23 “daily theatre of the palace press conference” - 26 “millions were spent to construct a mask” - 27 “carrion bird” - 28 “weak lights coming on like messages he would never decipher ... brazier ... wondered what he cooked on it” - 33 “I have a motor scooter” - 34 poetry - 35 “like a cipher message” - 49t-50b "Swift evening ... why do they wait?" - 54b-55t "Only one photograph ... queer jauntiness"
2. TIME, CHRONOLOGY. For the wider historical and political context of YD, take another look at the timeline in Colonialism & the Cold War. For the specific political and historical context of 1965 Indonesia, see YD Sukarno's Year.
How does the geographical distance between Indonesia (principally Jakarta) and Cookie (Australia and New Delhi) also act as a temporal distance?
Given that we measure huge expanses of space by using time (light years), how does Cookie's fascination with akasha or aether relate to Indonesia, the Wayang, 1965, and political history in general? Koch refers to akasha or aether on 81-2, but mostly toward the end of the novel, on 247t, 255t, 256t, 258m, 275b-276m. For information on akasha, see "Hinduism; Akasha," at the bottom of this page.
3. CHARACTER. Compare turning points or epiphanies in BR, QA, and YD. Compare what Green and Koch are saying about self-knowledge.
Hamilton's Betjaks 1
14 “Hamilton stared out through the arches at the night … Black limousines moved in an endless caravan… The fourteen-story Hotel ... Soon [the betjak called Tengah Malam] was wheeling in miniature under the highway’s blue lights, with Kwan concealed by its antique hood."
How are betjaks symbolic of what Hamilton doesn't know?
35 "As he lay sinking towards sleep ... Betjak bells floated up from the Car Park seven floors below ... he was often calmly unaware of their true natures, intensities, and needs, floating and dissolving around him."
109b "Near midnight ... in the Hotel, the muted, hollow clinking of the betjak bells ... through the sealed windows" & 111t "They spoke for another quarter hour ... in a language he could not understand: bink; bonk; bink"
Chapter 17: Hamilton's Sort of Vision
What is the significance of Hamilton's "sort of vision" (189t) while watching the Wayang on the outskirts of Bandung? What is the significance of his turning away from the puppet drama?
Make a line of argument about Chapter 17, making reference to the urban kampongs in Chapter 1 and on 49-50, 116b-120b, and 226b.
You could focus your argument on the literal and metaphorical journeys of Billy vs. Hamilton, on the similarities and differences between the three kampongs, or on the use of the Wayang, betjaks, light and dark, lamps, awnings, etc. -- yet feel free to come up with any argument that explores the text insightfully and rigorously.
I've put in italics words linking to "Opposite Trajectories" (below).
189: "the smoke-blue of magic; little coconut oil lamps trembled in open doorways" - mysterious - "a sort of vision ... a peak in the graph of his life ... the country of the secret" - "'full of scents and weird smells' [Hamilton said,] leaning on our dark, confessional bar"
190: kreteks - "Jakarta's propaganda" - "flat stretch of road," awnings, kampong, little shops, "coconut-oil and kerosene lamps" - mysterious, enchanted, "saw a light ... floating in the dark ... completely incomprehensible ... drawn towards the light" - lit screen
191: cinema, "show's arc of light," small lights, little stall, "like magic animals which had escaped from the screen into the air" - dalang with a cap of "midnight blue: above his head, a pressure-lamp, the source of the radiance" - Dewi Sri - Billy - "sacred theatre's mysteries ... he could never understand"
How is Hamilton's sort of vision seen in terms of upward and downward trajectories?
A Bright Thread (191b-192b): "a bright thread against eternal sky ... What was the dalang singing about? ... lit frame of the wayang ... so that the people of the kampong could forget ... 'What can we do for them, Cookie?"
A Tunnel and a Cord (194b-195m): "'When do you grow tired of these fairy tales?' ... They moved away from the arc of light, and the dalang's many voices. A black Zil [Russian AMO ZiL] limousine ... into the black and violet tunnel ... [Hamilton was] considering the idea of driving in the opposite direction .... [the local to Hamilton:] 'May your journey be blessed, brother' ... [Hamilton] drove through the warm, enigmatic blackness. Ahead of him, the red sparks of the Zil's tail-lights ... his car seemed attached to these lights as though by a long cord"
188b, 193b, 196t: Notice that immediately before, during, and immediately after Hamilton's sort of vision, Koch refers to Dewi Sri, a pre-Hindu goddess of harvests and fertility who is conflated with Sri / Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity.
What's the significance of Hamilton's visions of the Mother Goddess? How do his visions relate to latter depictions of Her by Billy and Cookie? For more on Koch's use of Hindu deities, see "Hinduism" below.
Hamilton's Betjaks 2
214 "while through the sealed windows the hungry bells of the evening betjaks came up to him, mocking his silly anxiety, his European game of romantic love."
232b-233tm "Later ... paying for his hire"
278b "all that came back now ... was Billy saying something about riding up Dragon Tail Street ... a dark shape pedalled and creaked across his middle distance: a betjak, whose rider wore a black shirt, black shorts, and a limp straw hat, and the name of whose machine was Tengah Malam"
4. RELATIONSHIPS. (conflict, bond, attraction, romance, etc.). How would you compare the loves of Fowler and Hamilton? Are Phuong and Jill secondary or tertiary characters? (Secondary characters are well-developed and important in their own right, whereas tertiary characters are less developed and mostly serve to illuminate other characters, advance the plot, etc.)
In what way, or to what degree, does Kumar deepen Hamilton's understanding?
153t-b "Kumar knew how much ... anything impossible"
164t-165t "Kumar gave a small, deprecating laugh ... lashing at the glass doors"
269b-273t "Hamilton broke the second rule ... closed with discreet quietness"
Jill, Vera & Alice
Compare the treatment of Jill in the novel and the film. Also note the way Tiger Lily replaces Vera in the film. What effect does this replacement have?
Jill is seen in terms of the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Alice in Wonderland. Early in the novel, Sukarno treats Hamilton in the way the caterpillar treats Alice (23-4), and both Jill and Vera are associated with Alice (130-131, 161, 198). Why?
Compare what Green and Koch are saying about religion or culture. What points is Koch making about love, friendship, power, culture, religion, politics, compassion, poverty, morality, journalism, conscience, politics, etc.? How is Billy crucial to making these points?
6. STYLE, STRUCTURE, SYMBOLISM, ETC.
Year is structured in at least seven interconnected ways:
1) the romance of Hamilton and Jill, from first encounters, to conflict -- deriving from the rumoured arms shipments and the Soviet agent Vera -- to resolution
2) the character development of Hamilton in terms of emotional maturity, romantic commitment, political insight, and cultural awareness
3) the ideals and disillusionment of Billy
4) the history of Indonesian politics in 1965 -- see YD Sukarno's Year
5) the symbol of the betjaks, who i) represent hard-working poor people, ii) serve as a literal and metaphorical trajectory from wealth (Sukarno's theatre and the arcade of the Hotel Indonesia) to the poor streets, markets, and slums of Jakarta, iii) link urban references to the Wayang and the poor area of Jakarta referred to as a kampong (as well as the slum in which Ibu lives) to the rural version of the kampong (on the outskirts of Bandung, where the villagers watch the Wayang), iv) are associated with Billy's solidarity with the poor as well as the uneasy conscience of Hamilton
6) THE WAYANG PUPPET THEATRE, which is involved in all of the other six narrative structures, and also includes things that are more specific to the Wayang itself, such as mythic narrative arcs, theatrical political commentary, epic battles, Hindu deities, etc. See YD Context for an introduction to the Wayang
7) the puppetry of narrative control, including i) the related narratives of Koch and Cooke, ii) the political narratives and manipulations of Sukarno as President/Dalang, and iii) Billy's attempt to be a dalang in relation to a) Hamilton and Jill, b) Sukarno's ideals and failures, c) Ibu's family, the betjaks, and the cemetery women -- see the "Puppetry" chart below
- Sukarno as Dalang
Sukarno is depicted in terms of major Hindu deities (Vishnu 11, 124, 147, and the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva 248) and also in terms of the dalang or puppet master (49, 125, 148, 209, 247-8, 252, 259-60, 265).
Much of the political tension in the novel lies in answering the question, "If the puppets fall from the dalang's hands, what then?" (126).
Sukarno's fall is also seen in terms of the Wayang: "No one can inhabit the left side and pretend he has been a figure of the right, or of the centre: and no one can pretend any more to be the dalang when he has become merely one of the puppets" (265).
- Betjaks & Billy
As we saw above in Chapter 1 and in the development of Hamilton's character, Koch uses betjaks in structural and symbolic ways -- even more than Green uses trishaws in QA. Note the difference between Granger's disrespect toward the trishaw driver early in QA, and the unthinking behaviour of Koch's journalists on 54b-55t. In both cases, however, the pedicab drivers represent common, poor, hard working people.
While the novel ends with the image of a betjak, one of the most important uses is during the funeral of Ibu. The betjaks once again lead us from those who have the luxury to speculate about politics and economics, to those who suffer the consequences of a failing economy.
Betjaks: The Wayang, Sukarno, Billy, & Ibu
How do betjaks link the Wayang, Sukarno, Billy, and Ibu?
Chapter 1 (above)
49m-50m "All ministers are summoned ...When the god-king's caravan has passed ... Betjaks, with their straining riders, toil like giant cockroaches at the muddy edges of the roads"
91t "'Betjak boys, you are my brothers' ... 'I could have been him,' [Billy] said quietly"
115t-126t "We have come to ... What Ibu's dossier does reveal is [Billy's] obsessive concern for the poor .. these preoccupations begin to lead him to a wild disappointment"
203m-204m; 205t-m "But, Billy ... unholy alliance of our century"; "You see, Billy ... Only in your case they happen to be boys"
235m "a fallen puppet: a puppet of leather"
226b-229m "Little Udin was buried today ... Why did you [Sukarno] cease to come to Pasar Baru?"
The following chart uses Wayang figures and regressive puppetry -- the puppet gets pulled by a string, a stick yanks the string, a hand holds the stick, another string pulls the hand, another stick yanks the string, etc. -- to suggest the narrative and political layers in the novel:
In both QA and YD we see events from the point of view of journalists who are part of the economic and military system of the West. In QA the point of view is first person, so we see things closely from Fowler’s point of view -- which appears to be very similar to Greene's point of view. In YD Cookie is writing the account, although much of what he writes is what happens to Hamilton and is what he imagines Hamilton to be thinking and feeling. The relation between Cookie and Koch is neither as close nor as clear as the relation between Fowler and Greene.
While Islam is dominant in Indonesia (and its densely populated island of Java -- see YD Context), historically Hinduism and Buddhism played a major role. Some of the largest temple complexes in the world are in eastern Java, and one can see how the figures of the Wayang borrow heavily from Hinduism and Hindu writings such as The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, and the Bhagavad-Gita.
Hindu Deities are possibly confusing references Koch makes throughout the novel. Sukarno is seen as Vishnu (11), obliquely in terms of Shiva (50t), and in terms of the Trimurti ('three forms' or Trinity) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (248b).
The Mother Goddess is seen in a variety of sometimes conflicting ways. Hamilton has odd visions of Dewi Sri (or Sri Devi / Lakshmi) on 188b, 193b, 196t.
Dewi Sri is believed to have dominion over the underworld and the Moon. Thus, Dewi Sri encompasses the whole spectrum of the Mother Goddess -- having dominion over birth and Life: she controls rice: the staple food of Indonesians; hence life and wealth or prosperity; most especially rice surpluses for the wealth of kingdoms in Java such as Mataram, Majapahit and Pajajaran; and their inverse: poverty, famine, hunger, disease (to a certain extent) and Death. [From Wikipedia's article, "Dewi Sri"]
Billy's Goddesses: 89 "the Mother ... Here, she's called Dewi Sri -- the Goddess of Rice"; 120 Ibu as Durga; 162-3 Kali in Billy’s picture; 168, 170, 172-3 In Billy's increasingly deranged state, he sees Hamilton and Vera in terms of the darker sides of Durga; 222 Billy sees 'the Black One' (Kali) as the international patron saint.
276 The death-dance of Maha Kali (Great Kali) is used by Koch to represent the slaughter of communists.
Here are brief entries from Wikipedia -- under "Kali; Mahakali," "Kali; Daksinakali," and "Mother Goddess; Hinduism":
Mahakali (Sanskrit: Mahākālī, Devanagari: महाकाली), literally translated as Great Kali, is sometimes considered as a greater form of Kali, identified with the Ultimate reality of Brahman. It can also be used as an honorific of the Goddess Kali, signifying her greatness by the prefix "Mahā-". Mahakali, in Sanskrit, is etymologically the feminized variant of Mahakala or Great Time (which is interpreted also as Death), an epithet of the God Shiva in Hinduism. Mahakali is the presiding Goddess of the first episode of the Devi Mahatmya. Here she is depicted as Devi in her universal form as Shakti. Here Devi serves as the agent who allows the cosmic order to be restored.
Kali is depicted in the Mahakali form as having ten heads, ten arms, and ten legs. Each of her ten hands is carrying a various implement which vary in different accounts, but each of these represent the power of one of the Devas or Hindu Gods and are often the identifying weapon or ritual item of a given Deva. The implication is that Mahakali subsumes and is responsible for the powers that these deities possess and this is in line with the interpretation that Mahakali is identical with Brahman. While not displaying ten heads, an "ekamukhi" or one headed image may be displayed with ten arms, signifying the same concept: the powers of the various Gods come only through Her grace.
Daksinakali, also spelled Dakshinakali, is the most popular form of Kali in Bengal. [...] Daksinakali is typically shown with her right foot on Shiva's chest—while depictions showing Kali with her left foot on Shiva's chest depict the even more fearsome Vamakali. The pose shows the conclusion of an episode in which Kali was rampaging out of control after destroying many demons. Shiva, fearing that Kali would not stop until she destroyed the world, could only think of one way to pacify her. He lay down on the battlefield so that she would have to step on him. Seeing her consort under her foot, Kali realized that she had gone too far, and calmed down. In some interpretations of the story, Shiva was attempting to receive Kali's grace by receiving her foot on his chest.
[The Mother Goddess.] In Hinduism, Durga represents the empowering and protective nature of motherhood. From her forehead sprang Kali, who defeated Durga's enemy, Mahishasura. Kali (the feminine form of Kaala" i.e. "time") is the primordial energy as power of Time, literally, the "creator or doer of time"—her first manifestation. After time, she manifests as "space", as Tara, from which point further creation of the material universe progresses. The divine Mother, Devi Adi parashakti, manifests herself in various forms, representing the universal creative force. She becomes Mother Nature (Mula Prakriti), who gives birth to all life forms as plants, animals, and such from Herself, and she sustains and nourishes them through her body, that is the earth with its animal life, vegetation, and minerals. Ultimately she re-absorbs all life forms back into herself, or "devours" them to sustain herself as the power of death feeding on life to produce new life. She also gives rise to Maya (the illusory world) and to prakriti, the force that galvanizes the divine ground of existence into self-projection as the cosmos. The Earth itself is manifested by Adi parashakti. Hindu worship of the divine Mother can be traced back to pre-vedic, prehistoric India.
Cookie makes numerous references to akasha or aether -- on 81-2, but mostly toward the end of the novel, on 247t, 255t, 256t, 258m, 275b-276m. The following paragraphs are from Wikipedia's article "Akasha":
In Vedantic Hinduism, Akasha means the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the first material element created from the astral world. A Vedic mantra “pṛthivyāpastejovāyurākāśāt” indicates the sequence of initial appearance of the five basic gross elements. Thus, first appeared the space, from which appeared air, from that fire or energy, from which the water, and therefrom the earth. It is one of the Panchamahabhuta, or "five gross elements"; its main characteristic is Shabda (sound). The direct translation of Akasha is the word meaning "upper sky" or 'space' in Hinduism.
The Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools of Hindu philosophy state that Akasha or aether is the fifth physical substance, which is the substratum of the quality of sound. It is the One, Eternal, and All Pervading physical substance, which is imperceptible. According to the Samkhya school, Akasha is one of the five Mahābhūtas (grand physical elements) having the specific property of sound. Adherents of the heterodox Cārvāka or Lokāyata philosophy held that this world is made of four elements only. They exclude the fifth, Akasha, because its existence cannot be perceived.