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The Power of One

Bryce Courtenay


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

I had become an expert at camouflage. My precocity allowed me, chameleonlike, to be to each what they required me to be.

Peekay frequently needs to camouflage himself in various ways in order to survive the system. In the quotation above, from Chapter Twenty-Three, Peekay compares himself to a chameleon that is so adept at camouflage that he can submit his own will to that of everyone else. Towards the end of the novel Peekay begins to question the heavy-handed role that he has allowed other people to play in the creation of his destiny. He wishes to remove all camouflages and create his own destiny, harness "the power of one"-the independent spirit within him.

As is so often the case with a legend, every incident has two possible interpretations, the plausible and the one that is molded to suit the making of the myth. Man is a romantic at heart and will always put aside dull, plodding reason for the excitement of an enigma. As Doc had pointed out, mystery, not logic, is what gives us hope and keeps us believing in a force greater than our own insignificance.

Peekay makes this observation at the end of Chapter Sixteen. The quotation highlights the dichotomy between mystery and logic which exists throughout the novel. The black South Africans represent the African mystery, while the white South Africans represent the desire to quash the African spirit through logic. Although Doc himself is representative of logical, rational thought, in this quotation Peekay stresses the fact that Doc is able to straddle both worlds. Peekay, too, is seen as a mediator between the English and the Afrikaners, and black and white. The myth of the Tadpole Angel is a myth of hope-it is this theme of hope that makes the prevailing tone of the novel an optimistic rather than pessimistic one.

I was a child of Africa, a white child to be sure, but nevertheless Africa's child. The black breasts that had suckled me and the dark hands that had bathed and rocked me had left me with a burden of obligation to resist the white power that would be the ultimate gift from those who now trained me.

In the quotation above, from Chapter Sixteen, Peekay reflects on his training as a "spiritual terrorist" in the brutal context of apartheid South Africa. Interestingly, it is more a responsibility than a desire he feels for the cause. Peekay, Doc, Geel Piet, and Peekay's Granpa are all characters who represent this new kind of morality-a self-constructed morality that does not rely on religion to decide what is good and evil. In the above quotation, Peekay shows his awareness simply of what is right-that is, to resist the white regime.

"The music of Africa is too wild, too free, too accustomed to death for romance. Africa is too crude a stage for the small scratching of the violin, too majestic for the piano. Africa is only right for drums. The drum carries its rhythm but does not steal its music. Timpani is the background, the music of Africa is in the voices of the people. They are its instruments, more subtle, more beautiful, infinitely more noble than the scratching, thumping, banging, and blowing of brass and vellum, strings and keyboard."

This quotation is a monologue given by Doc on the night before they discover the crystal cave of Africa. Doc's speech underscores the pervasiveness of music metaphors in The Power of One and outlines the difference between "Africa" and "Europe" by means of their distinct forms of music. It is appropriate that Doc, the music teacher, speak these words since he symbolizes the classical European tradition of music which conflicts with the raw beat of Africa. The quotation reminds the reader of Doc's "Concerto for the Great Southland" which he later dubbed "Requiem for Geel Piet," as a tribute to his and Peekay's brutally murdered friend. It is important stylistically since it shows a deviation from Peekay's first person narrative-the great amount dialogue in the novel stresses the fact that Peekay's growth to adulthood is informed by the words of many other people. Here, Peekay allows Doc to speak in his own words.

History will tell of how the election of the Nationalist party headed by Dr. Daniel Francois Malan was the turning point when the Afrikaner once again became the dominant force in the country. History is bound to treat this event with great pontification, showing how the struggle between the two white tribes of Africa reached its climax.

This quotation, which opens Chapter Twenty-One, marks a break away from Peekay's conventional first person narrative. Instead, history is the subject of both of the sentences above. In such a way, Bryce Courtenay ironically undermines the institution of historical recording itself. Readers know that the succession of the Nationalist Party to the South African parliament was a fatal disaster, unworthy of "great pontification." The quotation is indicative of Courtenay's subtle ironic criticism of racism and apartheid in South Africa-he is not melodramatic with his judgments. Courtenay also highlights here the fictional quality of history-in an era when history textbooks cannot be trusted, the line between fact and fiction is indelibly blurred.

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