The Power of One
The holidays end. The little boy's bedwetting problem is solved, but he remains concerned about his "hatless snake," even though he recalls that Inkosi-Inkosikazi assured him they shared that anatomical trait. Nanny packs the boy's bags, and includes a red sweater that his mother sent from "the nervous breakdown place." They drive in Granpa's Model A Ford truck with Mrs. Vorster, the neighboring widow. The boy, his nanny, and Granpa Chook travel in the back. Nanny is going to town in order to send money to her family in Zululand since there has been a drought. They arrive at the boarding school early, so the boy and Granpa Chook perch in the boy's secret mango tree. Later, the boy leaves Granpa Chook in a clearing in a citrus orchard while he visits Mevrou—he reports that he no longer has a bedwetting problem. Mevrou answers that her "sjambok" (caning stick) will be lonely. On returning to the clearing, the boy watches Granpa Chook fight a grass snake. The chicken wins, biting off and eating the snake's head. The boy hangs this second "hatless snake" from a branch near his dormitory window.
That night the other kids return. The Judge and his "jury" beat the boy up for comparing the Judge's new arm tattoo to a "kaffir" woman's face tattoos. The Judge boasts that his tattoo is a swastika, the symbol of Adolf Hitler. He tells the boy that Adolf Hitler is going to help the Afrikaners exterminate the English. All the boys swear death to all Englishmen in South Africa. Afterwards, the little boys try to figure out who Hitler is. Danie Coetzee, the little boys' spokesman, guesses that it is the new headmaster. That night the little boy experiences "the loneliest moment that had ever been."
The next morning, Granpa Chook wakes everyone up with his cock-a-doodle-doing on the boy's windowsill. When Mevrou enters, she notices the "chicken shit" on the boy's bed and canes him. She wants to butcher Granpa Chook, but when the chicken kills two cockroaches in her defense, she gives him the position of "cleaner of creepy-crawlies" in the kitchen. Months pass. The boy--still only known to us as "Pisskop"--becomes the Judge's servant. In class, Pisskop quickly learns to read Afrikaans and becomes the best in his class in all subjects, even though he is the other boys' junior by two years. In addition to English and Afrikaans, he also speaks the African languages of Zulu and Shangaan fluently. However, aware that his intelligence may be detrimental to his safety, he pretends not to be as clever as he actually is.
World War II arrives. A new headmaster comes. The old headmaster, who has a drinking problem, leaves, but only after announcing the "good news" that Hitler will save the Afrikaners and destroy the English. The Judge warns Pisskop that he will be the first of their prisoners of war. In class, Pisskop's ear gets mauled when the new teacher, Miss du Plessis, hits him for pretending not to know the twelve times table. Then she faints. Another teacher, Mr. Stoffel throws Pisskop against a wall and blames him for killing the teacher. When Pisskop wakes up, he is relieved to find that Dr. Henny is looking after him. Mevrou makes Pisskop lie to Dr. Henny and say that he fell out of a tree. Miss du Plessis has a nervous breakdown and a new teacher, Mrs. Gerber, arrives. Pisskop believes that he has caused both his mother's and Miss du Plessis' breakdowns.
Chapter Two explains the title of the book and introduces us to the novel's main theme: the importance of independence. The five-year-old Pisskop has already learned the necessity of developing an independent spirit within himself. His experiences show him that he cannot rely on anyone at the boarding school; he must nourish this power on his own. Adaptation, or survival through camouflage, is as important as independence for survival. The boy, whose constant consideration of how to cope with his difficult life makes the novel's style approach a kind of stream-of-consciousness, believes that he must camouflage his brilliant mind. He asks himself questions such as "How could you go wrong with a friend like [Granpa Chook] at your side?" He also occasionally uses the imperative voice, as though counseling himself: " adapt, blend, become part of the landscape, develop a camouflage, try in every way to be an Afrikaner." In some senses, the author keeps the boy camouflaged from us as well. For example, we are implicated in referring to him as "Pisskop" or "rooinek" since we have no other name for him. The notion of naming-as- identifying becomes a vital issue in this novel, where white people do not distinguish between black peoples, but instead clump them all together under the derogatory term "kaffirs." Naming someone else is a powerful tool for establishing identity--as a bedwetter, an English-speaker, or a black person.
With the continuation from Chapter 1 of the little boy's education, the novel begins to suggest that its genre is that of the "bildungsroman"-a novel which follows a protagonist from early childhood to maturity. The fact that the novel is narrated by the protagonist-as-adult from some safe point in the future confirms this genre. The narrator tells the events as he perceived them through his five-year-old eyes, but at the same time gives glimpses of his mature perspective on the events. For example, there is wry irony in the description of how the little boys agree that the new headmaster must be Adolf Hitler. The narrator does not contradict the boys' view, but allows the reader to chuckle at the misunderstandings of young minds. The protagonist already begins to stand out, however; in spite of his naïveté, his observations are often uncannily accurate. We are by no means to mock the boy, but rather to marvel at his resilience in this tough world. The narrator confronts the reader with the nastiness of the situation through vivid, immediate story-telling through an abundance of dialogue. The language is often shocking or crude-at one point the five-year-old Pisskop exclaims to himself, "What a shit of a day already!" At other times, however, Pisskop does not possess enough vocabulary to describe the experiences with which he is confronted-for example, he refers to the mental institution simply as "the nervous breakdown place."
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