The Power of One Character Analysis

The close of the school year returns our hero to his beloved Nanny who listens to his tale of torture and who introduces the first flavor of Africa to the western reader; she summons the great Inkosi-Inkosikazi, a medicine man who will cure the boy of the “night water. ” Nanny tells the boy’s story with all the eloquence of the great storytellers while Inkosi-Inkosikazi and the others listen. Even our hero is in awe: “I can tell you one thing, I was mighty impressed that any person, most of all me, could go through such a harrowing experience. 6 All is set for the night; the chickens have been put through their magic, our hero has had his sweet potato, and it is time for him to meet Inkosi-Inkosikazi in his dreams. When this happens, our hero is shown a quiet place to which he can return in times of trouble. He does this later in the book when he feels a crisis. In the morning, the night water problem has been solved and Inkosi-Inkosikazi presents the boy with the scrawniest of the chickens. He is named Granpa Chook. This chapter is significant for several reasons. As an introduction to the bildungsroman style, our hero is situated in a time and a place.
His early tribulations are addressed and he is given weapons to deal with them. His ability to think things over is revealed, and the chapter ends with one hurdle overcome and the boy set to begin another year at boarding school. This time, though, he has the magic of Inkosi-Inkosikazi and Granpa Chook, “the first living creature over which I had held power. ” 7 He is learning that there are ways to cope with injustice. Just as he had decided to remain invisible, our hero learns that there is strength inside of him and that he can summon that strength when needed.
He is able to find ways to survive the Judge and other oppressors. This gives hope to any reader who has felt himself the underdog. As the novel progresses, our hero’s ability to rise to the surface despite how different he is to his companions tells the reader that we are all unique and that the power of each one can overcome daunting odds. The above material should serve as the basis for one class discussion. For each chapter, the teacher should examine what is essential to fuel the discussion. This next portion of the narrative will concentrate on the ransitional points in Peekay’s development and the instances in which politics affect his life and environment. The remainder of the first section of Book 1, which will be evaluated through a written assessment (see Appendix C) takes Peekay on a journey to his new home in Barberton. Peekay finishes his time at boarding school where he learns to adapt to the Judge and his “storm troopers” by doing the Judge’s homework in hopes that the older boy will graduate and be out of his life. The Judge has carved a crude swastika on his arm.

He agrees to allow Pisskop and Granpa Chook live until he passes math and then says Hitler will surely deal with them and they will be dead meat. This plan is altered when Pisskop refuses to eat the turds the Judge forces into his hands and Granpa Chook defecates in the howling Judge’s mouth. He and the storm troopers beat the bird to death, leaving our hero to bury and mourn his only companion. The school term ends, the Judge departs, and Mevrou, who, interestingly, also addresses our hero as Pisskop, prepares him for the journey to his new home by brusquely informing him that he will take the train alone.
Free from the Judge, yet mourning the loss of Granpa Chook, they set out. When they meet Harry Crown, the Jew who sells them tackies, the man is appalled at the boy’s name and suggests “Peekay” which our hero gratefully accepts. Thus far, Peekay has been loved by his Zulu nanny, despised by his Afrikaner schoolmates and subjected to the cruelties of budding Nazis, and treated kindly by a Jewish storekeeper. The next step involves Mevrou’s emotionless parting from the boy when she consigns him to the care of the railway.
Then Peekay meets Hoppie Groenewald with whom he travels and who treats him as an individual and a friend. “Hoppie Groenewald was to prove to be a passing mentor who would set the next seventeen years of my life on an irrevocable course. He would do so in little more than a day and a night. ” 8 He introduces Peekay to boxing and brings him to his match where the boy is put under the care of Big Hettie, an aging, overweight Irish women who literally kills herself with food. She is the subject of her own drama which unfolds in the following chapter. Peekay learns from Hoppie that he is a worthwhile person.
He learns that there is a goal in each life and to reach that goal one must focus. The most important piece of information he learns, though, is that the power of one can conquer. The child’s mind takes in this crucial information along with his heart’s response to the genuine kindness of the first person who seems to care about him since Nanny. To his dismay, he awakens the morning after the fight to find a note from Hoppie who has left the train. It contains the advice, “first with the head, then with the heart,” 9 which Peekay follows in all his future endeavors.
This section of Peekay’s journey allows characters from several different backgrounds to make their impressions on the boy. The threat of Hitler is somewhat removed, but the marked inequality in the way different groups of people are treated unfolds. From Peekay’s embarrassment at Hoppie Groenewald seeing his circumcised penis and fearing that he will despise him because he is English, to hearing the beautiful Indian lady with the diamond in her tooth referred to as a “coolie,” Peekay is constantly made aware that people in this society are unrelenting in their notion of social hierarchy.
This baffles the boy who sees everyone as the same. But how did he become the egalitarian child who grew into the freedom fighter? His beginnings show him with a bland and ineffectual mother who has a nervous breakdown and is essentially removed from his life. His nanny is the most important person in his small world. Granpa is kindly but vague. These conditions could account for the boy’s acceptance of the blacks in his world, but how does it come about that he also accepts the other disdained groups? While he fears the Judge and his henchmen, he does not profess to despise all other Afrikaners.
He takes to Harry Crown and is fascinated by the Indian woman. The key to this acceptance is in his nature as a person and his early experiences. At school he is made into the outcast. For no reason other than his heritage, the boy is punished, humiliated, and threatened with death. He is bewildered, not understanding why he has been singled out this way, yet he does not see his treatment as an injustice in the beginning. His reaction is to try to blend in and remain impervious to the tortures with which he lives.
The result of forcing this under the surface is that he becomes a bed wetter. The interesting point here is the cure; Nanny sets out to cure the boy in the only way she knows how. The acceptance into her culture without question or prejudice enlarges the boy’s capacity to understand that all humans are part of the same whole. He communes with Inkosi-Inkosikazi in his dream and is linked to the older man’s culture. This early understanding of the interconnection between all people is what allows the boy to incorporate anyone he meets into his world, his space, and his family.
The people who do not fit well are individuals who have strayed from the whole, those such as the Judge and Lt. Borman. These people must be dealt with but they are not representative of their entire race and do not engender hatred from Peekay as such; he can discern them as blotches on the whole of humanity and deal with them appropriately. This maturity is what all intelligent people strive for, hoping to assess an individual and his actions and not mistake the work of one person as representative of an entire race or ethnic group.
Peekay seems to exude the feeling of common brotherhood without consciously striving to communicate it, unlike Pastor Mulvery, who is portrayed as being as sincere as he is intellectually able, yet projecting all of his acquired ideals and dogma in a sickeningly conscious manner. Peekay reflects the world around him. He is everyman and everyman is his brother. Through his actions, Peekay speaks to the world around him and those who inhabit it answer him in kind. Throughout the book there are subtle distinctions between the competing Afrikaners and the English, referred to by the Judge as the “verdomde rooineks,” or “damned rednecks. Characters toss off ethnic references and racial epithets as a matter of everyday speech, such as, “I will tell Hoppie Groenewald you behaved like a proper Boer, a real white man,” 10 and “. . . my mother was always getting splitting headaches because she was a white woman and like Nanny said, it was a very hard thing to be. ” 11 Peekay is essentially colorblind. To him, his Nanny is the most important person in the world. His mother is simply the woman who gave birth to him. Without a father, his grandfather is an bsent-minded, distant personage who has little influence on the boy’s life. All the figures in Peekay’s life at this point, save the Judge, are adults, and it matters little whether they are Zulu, Shangaan, Afrikaner, Jewish, Indian, or “verdomde rooinek. ” To Peekay they are all people, each one an entity to examine and understand; sometimes to fear and sometimes to love. The combination of a child’s point of view with the adult narrator’s reflection on these memories frames the picture for the reader, creating a universal point of view for global readers of all ages.
After the disappointment of finding his mother under the religious spell of Pastor Mulvery, Peekay discovers that Nanny has been sent back to Zululand because she would not forsake her beliefs for the Christian religion. Peekay’s life would have been unbearably bleak if he hadn’t met Doc. Chapter Nine brings a breath of hope, both intellectual and aesthetic, into Peekay’s life. Instead of remaining in the stifling company of his mother and Pastor Mulvery with the “escaping teeth,” Peekay has found a mind and heart to nurture his own.
His loneliness birds are at bay, and he realizes, at age six, that one can be alone but not lonely. In this part of the book, organized Christianity is portrayed as something to be avoided. None of the characters who embrace the Apostolic Faith Mission seems to be very bright. The whole question of what happens in heaven is almost funny, except that the only response to the little white girl’s query about whether the blacks will still work for the whites is for Pastor Mulvery to tell her that nobody works in heaven.
He sidesteps the entire issue of equality and leans toward the “separate but equal” stance held in the United States. Doc, in contrast, who is a German citizen and therefore perceived as a threat to society, is the most spiritual character in the book; it is he who unwraps the beauty of the natural world for Peekay. In Courtenay’s world, those interested in war and politics are definitely less valuable than those who embrace nature. In the second half of Book 1, Peekay grows from age 6 to 12. His relationship with Doc is the longest and most fruitful of any of his mentors.
World War II begins and Doc is imprisoned for being an unregistered German. The injustice spreads as Peekay tries to intervene and is kicked in the jaw and touted as a hero who brought down a suspected traitor. When he comes to in the hospital, his broken jaw wired shut, Peekay is appalled at the report and relies on Mrs. Boxall, his friend and the town librarian, to sort it out and vindicate him. Peekay’s observation of the treatment of the prisoners and the racial prejudice of the prison officials only strengthens his feelings of the necessity for equal rights and education for everyone.
He does not think of himself as English; he is South African. Doc accepts his internment graciously, as he is allowed full freedom of movement in the prison and is allowed to have a cactus garden. There is a hierarchy among the prisoners as well. In every collection of humans who must coexist at close quarters there will be some order that emerges or that is imposed. Think of Lord of the Flies or The Admirable Crichton. Power struggles exist among any group of people. Seeing the power that Peekay attains without his seeking it points to the power inside him; the power of one person to make a change.
This reinforces the notion that the one who should be held as an example is the one who does not seek power. This is more clearly illustrated in later chapters. The character of Geel Piet could fill an entire book. His relevance to the theme of Peekay’s story lies in his role as a symbol of the downtrodden, poor bastard. He has lived a life of crime, but he is not all bad. He has learned to function within the system to accept what he cannot change. His legacy is: Peekay’s success, the eight-punch combination, and the music that Doc dedicated to him.
Peekay’s boxing progresses, his musical abilities, although not masterful, proceed, and his academic career flourishes, due largely to his tutoring by Doc, Mrs. Boxall, and extra help from his teacher, Miss Bornstein, on whom he develops a crush. By the end of Book 1, Peekay has realized the enormity of the inequality of his country. His comprehension has grown from his early fear of Hitler coming to kill him and Granpa Chook to a resolve to continue to fight racial hatred and promote equality for all.

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