"The Beach of Falesá" is a short story or novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1892.
Robert Louis Stevenson is best remembered for Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both short, exciting and popular adventure stories. Both of these stories are probably as well known for the tropes they created than they are for their literary quality, which is a shame since they are both great books on their own. But Stevenson was prolific, producing dozens of works in many genres over several decades.
"The Beach of Falesá", a work from late in his career, is an attempt to write a more realistic, character based story instead of the fast-paced adventure stories he was known for. It takes place on the South Pacific island of Falesá, probably a fictionalization of Stevenson's final home of Samoa.
The plot of the story involves John Wiltshire, a trader who settles on an island to trade for copra. Another trader, Case, in a seemingly friendly gesture, arranges a marriage for Case with a local woman. However, the woman is under a taboo that then spreads to Wiltshire, so that no one will buy or sell from him. Case does this out of a profit motive, and perhaps from sheer spite. The more that Wiltshire hears about Case, the more he realizes he is a deceitful and violent man. He finds out that he is able to cow the native people by means of tricks such as Aeolian Harps and luminous paint. He sets out to undermine his trickery, which involves blowing up Case's forest of illusions, and incidentally shooting Case in the process. He then settles down with his wife in the now-peaceful island.
The story is sold simply and clearly. There are only three or four main characters, and the motivations and personalities of all of them are quite clear. Dialogue and action proceed along quite nicely. Like many people, I have found wading into the great sea of Nineteenth Century English Literature to be somewhat of a chore. But Stevenson was a popular writer who knew how to sell an adventure story, and even when writing a more serious novel, it still comes across as a popular serial might. The story does end, after all, with a dynamite and gun fight where the hero defeats the villain and then gets the girl.
Despite the short length and easy readability, it also has more serious points to make. Some of Stevenson's works, this one included, are the first works to look at colonialism critically. The mechanizations of Case to control native society by using technology to manipulate their beliefs and culture could be seen as a wider commentary on colonial practices. It is also, in both setting and message, a prelude to Heart of Darkness and its adaptation Apocalypse Now.