"Max Havelaar" is a satirical autobiography in which Eduard Douwes Dekker documents his personal suffering while working as an assistant resident in Leepak in Java, which was a Dutch colony at the time. Dekker took the pen name "Multatuli" to express his suffering and bitterness, as the name derives from the Latin for "I have suffered a lot". Dekker was hoping to be offered a position in the Dutch colonial administration which would restore his self-esteem and improve the conditions of the Javanese. When the Dutch minister of the colonies refused to re-appoint him in Indonesia, he had no choice but to publish the book. When the novel was published in 1860, it caused a huge political and social controversy, sending a tremor through the Dutch nation and eventually leading to many reforms
The events of the novel are told from two opposing perspectives: first, we meet the Amsterdam coffee-seller Droogstoppel, whose life is dominated by the coffee trade. He claims to be true to his work, but in reality he is a caricature. The author's humour is illustrated in the name Batavus Droogstoppel, which means "the Dutch bore" (in Latin and Dutch, respectively). When Droogstoppel meets his old classmate Max Havelaar who has just returned from Java poor and penniless, we are given the chance to see a different perspective of the events. We discover this perspective in the manuscript which Havelaar asks Droogstoppel to help him publish. The manuscript, which proves Droogstoppel's superficial view of events is wrong, tells the story of an idealistic young man who works as a civil servant in the Dutch colonial administration in Java. He tries to protect the poor and downtrodden Javanese from the tyranny of local leaders and the Dutch colonial administration, but he succeeds only in prompting the administration to fire him.