The Power of One
Peekay wakes early and surveys the savannah outside the train window. He expresses amazement at the washbasin which Hoppie shows him, neatly stashed away beneath the compartment table. Hoppie tosses away Peekay's soggy packed food from Mevrou and insists on buying him a proper "first class fighter" breakfast. As Hoppie lifts Peekay out of bed, Peekay covers his penis and apologizes to Hoppie for being a "verdomde rooinek" (a damned redneck). He expects "retribution." Nothing happens, however, and Peekay begins to lose his fear of being an Englishman. Hoppie takes Peekay to the dining car where the waiter walks past and asks Hoppie the "odds" on his fight. Peekay wonders what "odds" are. He asks Hoppie whether he is frightened for the fight, eliciting another inspiring lecture from Hoppie, who is a "southpaw" (left-handed boxer). Lunch arrives with free steaks for Hoppie and Peekay. All of the passengers chat enthusiastically about Hoppie's imminent boxing bout. The waiter takes money for bets, and Hoppie has to explain what "betting" is to Peekay. Hoppie encourages Peekay to bet ten to one with his Granpa's shilling. Peekay is a little worried since Mevrou told him only to use the shilling in emergencies. Hoppie tells Peekay this could be considered an emergency.
In Gravelotte, Hoppie takes Peekay to his home on the railway mess. Then they go to buy new tackies for Peekay at "Patel and Son," which is owned by an Indian man, Mr. Patel. Hoppie treats Mr. Patel and his daughter--whom Peekay notices as being very beautiful--with disdain and tries to swap Peekay's large tackies for new ones. When Mr. Patel recognizes Hoppie as the famous boxer "Kid Louis" (Hoppie's boxing name, taken from a black non-African boxer), he wants to return Hoppie's nine pence. Hoppie tells him to give the money to Peekay instead. Mr. Patel hands Peekay a shilling. Peekay is relieved his Granpa's money has strangely been restored. Mr. Patel says that he has bet ten pounds on Hoppie's victory.
On the way back to the railways, Hoppie tells Peekay not to address "coolies" (derogatory term for Indian or "colored" people) as "Mister." They head for the billiard room, where Hoppie's opponent, Jackhammer Smit, comes swaggering towards them. He laughs at Hoppie's small stature and calls him a "midget." Hoppie tosses back a witty comment before exiting. Peekay meets Hoppie's friends Nels and Bokkie. At his home, Hoppie educates Peekay in pre-match rituals: a shower, a lie-down, and glasses of water every ten minutes (since it is deathly hot). At dinner, Hoppie introduces Peekay to people as "the next welterweight contender." Peekay remembers all that Hoppie tells him, and Hoppie marvels at Peekay's perfect recall. Hoppie's army forms arrive in the mail--he tells Peekay that he has been summoned to war. He explains that Hitler is a very bad man--the enemy, not the ally.
The racism of whites towards non-whites in South Africa becomes clearer in Chapter Five. Peekay's description of Mr. Patel's daughter as wearing "diaphanous cloth" and having "dark and very beautiful" eyes contrasts with Hoppie's racist description of Indians as "coolies." Thus, the theme of people contradicting themselves in their behavior emerges further here. While showing extreme generosity and compassion to Peekay, Hoppie shows only arrogant racism towards the Patels, and tells Peekay not to call Mr. Patel "Mister." Peekay thus becomes more than simply the protagonist-he becomes a moral yardstick by which we are to judge the other characters. Peekay shows respect and courtesy to everyone he meets.
Although Peekay's insight into the world remains limited and somewhat humorous, he is fast being forced to grow up. The bildungsroman structure usually involves a series of shifts from one setting to another, with very few visits to past settings. With Peekay surrounded by fresh faces on a train bound for Barberton, a new town, this novel certainly continues to fulfill the bildungsroman criteria. Moreover, most readers are in the same position as Peekay-unclear of the exact details of apartheid, and without an intimate knowledge of the boxing world. When Peekay confides that he does not understand Hoppie's "boxing parlance," we share his newcomer's perspective.
Chapter Five offers a couple of examples of the author's method of characterization--a simple, conventional method whereby a character's name is subsequently furnished with a short physical sketch. Peekay illustrates Mr. Patel's daughter, for instance, through the following description: "She was a mid brown color, her straight black hair was parted in the middle " While the author pursues a conventional characterization method, the reader can understand his preoccupation with appearance, and particularly with skin tone. By Peekay almost taking inventory in noticing the woman's "mid brown color," the author highlights the impossibility of categorizing people, especially according to something as nuanced as skin color. People should not be quantified and pigeonholed, he suggests. Yet some of the character descriptions fall into stereotypes or caricatures, contradicting this notion. Mr. Patel, for instance, speaks in a caricatured Indian dialect, using expressions such as "very-very" and "by golly." Such stereotypes suggest that the book belongs to the genre of "popular adventure." The characters and events, as will be seen in the rest of the novel, lack authenticity but replace it with the kind of exaggerated magic found in children's fairy tales.
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