This book is one of the most important books of Dutch literature. The writer combines humour, emotion and facts. The book has a complex structure, without making it difficult to read, an outspoken view, but also more subtle jokes (at least in the Dutch language, and for people aware of Dutch culture), a perceptive view on the way the institutions in the Dutch East Indies worked to promote the corruption and the exploitation of the people. All these things make the book an enjoyment to read.
The writer, however, isn't trying to make an objective unemotional description of the events in the East Indies, but he is arguing - making a treatise - for a different/better treatment of the people in the Indonesia, basing his treatise on facts and emotions (he stresses the parts which are undisputed facts in a very natural way). For this he uses al his (well developed) rhetorical abilities.
To give some examples of his rhetorical abilities and the working of the structure:
- at some point in the book he argues against painters which try to show the multitude of misery caused by a certain event, by painting the quantity involved. He argues that this makes people numb for the suffering shown on the painting. Why the writer tells this is unclear, until later when he starts telling a dramatic story about the injustice and suffering endured by an Indonesian boy. Then it becomes clear that this suffering is endured by many Indonesians, but instead of making you dazzle with numbers he tries (and succeeds) to make you feel compassionate with one individual. Only to make you realise afterwards that there are/were many individuals which are enduring the same suffering!
- and instead of stating with certain facts: `this is a fact', he makes himself angry about how shocking/outrages something is, only to afterwards state: `it is true: you can look it up here, or there'.
These are just two examples, but the entire book is a rhetoric masterwork!
However, readers expecting a balanced book will be disappointed. The writer didn't strive for consensus, he strove to make an as great as possible contrast between his ideals (good) and the Dutch merchantmen spirit (evil). The treatise worked much in the same way as the books/movies of Micheal Moore do today. Mixing emotion, fact and rhetorical ability (although Multatuli has greater literary abilities) to create a document that polarises society about great contemporary political issues.