The Power of One
In 1951 Peekay wins the South African schools featherweight championship and the Prince of Wales School wins the championship for the third time. Overall, Peekay has an extremely successful school career, having been awarded his colors for rugby and three times for boxing, becoming head prefect, and being recognized as a very good musician. He says that he is on the road to becoming a "Renaissance man," Singe 'n' Burn's desire for his students. However, Peekay realizes that he has put his own individual desires aside in order to win prizes and acclaim from his peers. The only ambition of his own is his desire to become welterweight champion of the world.
Peekay reviews his financial situation during his school years and points out that his and Morrie's invention of "The Boarder's Bank" had provided him with pocket money and, thus, dignity. Peekay acknowledges his and Morrie's firm friendship-he feels guilty, though, since secretly he knows that he chose Morrie for a friend in the first form because he realized that Morrie could help him to "survive the system."
Singe 'n' Burn escorts Peekay to his interview for the Rhodes scholarship. Peekay wants nothing more than to attend Oxford. Morrie's family have offered to pay his fees, but Peekay cannot accept this. Morrie wants to become law partners with Peekay after Oxford, but Peekay firmly sticks to his boxing goals-Morrie tells him they can make much more money through law. Peekay cannot explain to Morrie the importance of boxing in his life-indeed, its source is really a dead chicken. In the Rhodes interview, the three male interviewers test Peekay on his Latin poetry, through which Peekay breezes. Then they focus on his desire to become a "professional pugilist." Peekay reminds them that Lord Byron was a "pugilist." Peekay is one of the final five candidates and sits for the Oxford entrance examination. Peekay returns to Barberton for the Christmas holidays and he is the town hero-everyone is convinced that he is bound for Oxford. Peekay does not win a Rhodes scholarship, however. Peekay's friends in Barberton are distressed in spite of the fact that Peekay wins scholarships to the prestigious South African universities, Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch. It is only Peekay's Granpa who does not seem at all bothered. He tells Peekay that his brother went to Oxford and died "rich and lonely." Peekay and Morrie talk over the phone-Morrie wishes to delay his degree at Oxford until he and Peekay can go together. Peekay tells Morrie he needs to consult Doc-or rather, Doc's spirit.
Peekay closes his eyes and journeys to the night country. Then he visits the crystal cave of Africa, where he finds Doc. He explains to Doc his fear of succumbing to the power of others and losing the power of one. Peekay senses that he will have to undergo one final test before achieving the power of one. Suddenly a black mamba snake appears in front of him. He knows that Doc has sent him a sign, a symbol. Although not naturally hostile, the snake will seek revenge if its partner is killed.
Peekay decides to take a year off between school and university in order to work in the mines in Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). No one feels happy about his decision. He also decides to take a break from boxing-he has fought and won 116 fights. Peekay found out about the dangerous, but lucrative job of becoming a "grizzly man" on the mines from Gert's brother, who is a diamond driller (the grizzly men work for the drillers). A grizzly man is highly paid since he works with dangerous explosives and has a high chance of being killed in the mines. Peekay at first feels isolated in Northern Rhodesia since he does not speak the black Rhodesians' language, Ki-Swahili. Peekay watches with compassion the loads of black men being shipped into the mining camp against their will. Peekay lives in a very basic "rondavel" (a round African hut with an iron roof). It is a tough lifestyle, and the miners are crude-when they are not occupied with Belgian prostitutes, Peekay fears that they will attempt to gang rape him. Peekay begins classes at the school of mines, and finds himself under the instruction of a Welshman, Dai Thomas, a remorseless, harsh man. Peekay's lessons involve two hours of theoretical work and eight hours of practical training underground every day. Peekay finishes reading all the assigned text books in his first week and thus manages to outwit Thomas. He begins to teach the other men and becomes known as "Professor Peekay." After three months, he becomes the first student in seven years to acquire an international blasting license. He is also selected for the miners' first rugby team. Although Peekay does not drink alcohol because of his boxing training regimen, he visits the local mining bar, The Crud Bar. Three German barmen, all by the name of Fritz, run the bar.
Peekay provides a technical explanation of the work of a grizzly man. In short, the grizzly man is responsible for blasting away rock so that the diamond drillers can do their job. He spends much of his time lighting fuses while clinging on to rock faces fifteen feet above metal bars. If he falls, he dies, and may be buried under the exploding rock. In Peekay's year working as a grizzly, five of the twenty grizzlies die. At the end of each month, the diamond driller for whom the grizzly works sends him a case of brandy. It is against mining protocol for the diamond driller and the grizzly man to meet in person, however. All that Peekay knows is that his diamond driller is a man called Botha. Since Peekay does not drink, he gives this brandy to Rasputin, a Georgian (Russian) man who lives next door to him. Rasputin and Peekay cannot communicate verbally, so they sit together listening to Rasputin's Tchaikovsky. Rasputin, a gigantic, burly man, whittles wooden balls by wielding a very large axe. He builds a stash of these balls in one corner of his "rondavel"-they are his calendar. Rasputin makes Russian stew for Peekay-only after eating it does Peekay realize that Rasputin made the stew with a dead cat. At Wednesday western nights, Rasputin buy sweets for all the children.
Peekay has finished his three-month spell as a grizzly when he is recalled and asked to do another three months. Flattered, he agrees, in spite of the dangers.
Chapter Twenty-Three, the first chapter of Book Three and the second last of the novel, follows Peekay into a completely new territory: out of South Africa and into the harsh world of the Northern Rhodesian mines. (Rhodesia became 'Zimbabwe' in the 1970s, during the liberation movement.) It thus serves as a conduit between worlds-it summarizes the final events of Peekay's South African life, and introduces the scenes and characters of his Northern Rhodesian life. Peekay is now seventeen and his voice within the novel has almost caught up to his voice without the novel-that is, his voice as narrator. The author has succeeded in gradually changing Peekay's perceptions so that the reader has a sense of his maturation-the seventeen-year-old Peekay, aware of the world of "whores" and "pack-rape," is leagues away from the five-year-old Peekay, who did not even know what a drinking problem was. Bryce Courtenay has subtly constructed his bildungsroman-rather than telling us how Peekay's mind has changed, he allows Peekay's burgeoning intellect to speak for itself. As always, Peekay quickly adapts to his new environment and excels-his Rhodes scholarship disappointment, the first real "failure" of his life, does not hamper his need to win, but rather fuels it. Peekay achieves the best results in his mining exams, he is selected for the miners' first rugby team, and his altruism leads him to give lessons to the other miners to help them pass their exams. Peekay is almost perfect. Bryce Courtenay himself has said that his protagonist is supposed to be "larger than life." Indeed, Peekay lives up to the People's legend of the Tadpole Angel-he has the aura of a legend, a hero, a fairy tale character. Yet his modesty and his sense of humor keep him human and make him accessible to readers. Chapter Twenty-Three concludes with Peekay almost laughing at himself after realizing that he has eaten a cat.
By extending the novel's scope beyond the South African borders, Courtenay highlights the fact that oppression is an international phenomenon. The black Rhodesians are treated almost as badly as the black South Africans. Moreover, his depressing portrayal of the Belgian prostitutes with their "constantly opening legs" reminds us that oppression of women is as much a reality as racial oppression. Interestingly, although many women play important roles in Peekay's life-such as Nanny, Mrs. Boxall, and Miss Bornstein-women are generally sidelined. Peekay's most important mentors are men-Hoppie, Geel Piet, and Doc. Moreover, while Peekay briefly addresses issues of puberty and sex in the novel, this is very different from a conventional "coming-of-age" novel. There is no love interest in the novel; the only explicit love relationship is the friendship between Peekay and Doc. The introduction of the character of Rasputin witnesses the arrival of yet another male friend into Peekay's life. Peekay and Rasputin's silent relationship provides a touching example of the idiosyncrasies of friendship-Peekay has learnt that intellectual conversation (such as he enjoyed with Morrie) does not have to play a role in a relationship. Indeed, Peekay's very decision to refuse Morrie's offer to pay for Oxford and to work on the mines symbolizes a return to his working-class roots: thus, Courtenay has taken on the issue of class structure as well.
It is uncertain whether Peekay actually journeys to the crystal cave of Africa or whether this journey takes place simply within his mind. His description moves from the metaphorical "night country" to a literal description of being stranded on the cave ledge and confronted by the black mamba snake, which he self-consciously points out to be a symbol. It no longer matters which world- real or imaginary-Peekay inhabits, however. By causing a blend of the two through his writing style, Peekay acknowledges the importance of both reality and imagination in everyone's lives.
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