The Power of One
Peekay says that returning to Barberton every holiday feels like "sloughing a skin." He enjoys the constancy of his life in the small town-the fact that nothing ever seems to change. Mrs. Boxall has started a school for the Barberton prisoners and their progress is rewarded with King Georgies (cigarettes). Due to Mrs. Boxall's efforts, many inmates leave the prison literate. Klipkop has been transferred to Johannesburg and Gert has become Lieutenant Smit's assistant. Peekay longs for Geel Piet whom he calls an "artist." He realizes that if he wants to accomplish his dream to become welterweight champion of the world, he will need to find a coach to take him beyond the schoolboy boxing scope. Peekay's holiday daily routine rotates through boxing practice, breakfast, hiking with Doc, piano lessons, and chess matches against Mr. Bornstein. Peekay has joined the jazz band at school and he tries to shock Doc by playing "St. Louis Blues." To Peekay's surprise, Doc knows a great deal about jazz-he used to play at a cathouse in New Orleans. He tells Peekay that jazz must be played from the soul, not from the head. Miss Bornstein has decided that Peekay must win a Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford. She thus gives Peekay additional tuition each day. Peekay spends time with his old friends, but he has begun to discover that "intellect separates men." All that they have in common is rugby, cricket, and girls. Morrie, on the other hand, fulfills Peekay's intellectual needs.
Chapter Eighteen is one of the novel's shortest chapters-it mirrors its subject matter (Peekay's holidays at home) in that it provides a "breather," a little detour before returning to the main plot. The chapter allows Peekay the space to summarize his ambitions for the reader. His desire to become welterweight champion of the world is still his first priority, but Miss Bornstein has added a new goal for Peekay which is to shape the remainder of the novel-a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford. At the beginning of the chapter Peekay invokes the symbol of the "snake" by describing his return trips home as "sloughing a skin." Variation between constants and uncertainties has become a theme in Peekay's life, and the world of Barberton has come to represent the constant. It is not without change, however-Peekay begins to feel somewhat distanced from his old Barberton friends and appreciates Morrie's friendship even more.
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