The Power of One
While Peekay sits on a rock on the hillside, surveying Barberton, a very tall and thin man with a camera introduces himself as Professor von Vollensteen. He tells Peekay that he could not resist taking a photograph of him as he sat on the rock. He asks for Peekay's permission to call it "Boy on a Rock." Peekay notices that the professor is carrying a cactus in his canvas backsack. He asks why the cactus is not pricking the professor, and the old man promises to reveal the secret. He takes the cactus from his bag and introduces it to Peekay as "Euphorbia grandicornis...a very shy cactus." He shows Peekay that his backsack is made of leather, protecting his back from the cactus' prickles. Peekay says that he could have worked that out for himself, and the professor calls him a "schmarty pants." He asks Peekay whether he knows what a professor is, and Peekay has to admit that he does not know. Suddenly the professor notices a rare aloe under the sock on which Peekay is sitting, and yelps "Wunderbar!" Peekay reminds him that he has not yet explained the word "professor." The man replies, "'A professor is a person who drinks too much whisky and once plays goot Beethoven.'" Then he tells Peekay that he can call him "Doc" instead of "Professor." Doc and Peekay part ways and Peekay returns home, to a dismal Dum and Dee. Cowering, they tell him that his mother wants to see him. Peekay does not feel scared-his mother does not realize that he is a "veteran of interrogation and punishment." Peekay's mother makes him apologize to her, then breaks down into tears of self-pity. At this, Peekay feels relieved because he is more accustomed to this side of his mother. He tells her to lie down, and brings her some tea and an Aspro.
Two days later, Peekay sits watching army trucks filled with soldiers passing by the house when Doc arrives. Doc greets Peekay warmly and says that he wishes to speak to his mother-he has brought an aloe and the photograph of Peekay as presents for her. Doc discovers, to his horror, that Doc is a German. Doc tells Peekay's mother that he believes her son is a genius and he wishes to give him music lessons. At first she resists, since she does not accept charity from anyone. Doc eventually convinces her by saying that in return for the lessons he requires Peekay to work for him, collecting cacti. Peekay's mother now agrees- having a son trained in classical music will be a status symbol for her, a "social equalizer."
The summer months pass and Peekay spends the majority of his time with Doc, roaming the Barberton "kloofs" (cliffs) collecting cacti. Doc teaches Peekay "the priceless lesson of identification." He teaches Peekay how to observe, how to listen to himself, and how to use his brain for both original thought and as a "reference library" for storing information. Doc supplements Peekay's outdoors education with morning piano lessons, and frequent trips to the Barberton library, run by Mrs. Boxall. Peekay soon realizes that he is competent but not a gifted musician. His mother, however, is delighted when Peekay stuns all the Barberton citizens at the bi-annual cultural concert by playing Chopin. The Afrikaners leave the concert when all the English people begin singing "White Cliffs of Dover." Peekay explains the close relationship between the Boers and the Germans, who gave the Boers assistance during the Boer War.
Doc, or Professor von Vollensteen, helps Peekay to counter generalizations about Germans. Peekay is at first shocked since he associates all Germans with Hitler's Nazi party. Chapter Nine shows some stylistic deviations from previous chapters by Peekay's deviations into historical descriptions. At the conclusion of the chapter, he provides the reader with a lengthy description of the close relationship that developed between the Germans and the Boers during the Boer War. In such a way, he undertakes to educate the reader-he does not make allusions to historical events; he explains them. This results in the novel being self-contained—one does not have to undertake much external research in order to understand its context. Perhaps the author is suggesting that the very notion of history and historical recording is at stake in this time period. History cannot be taken for granted, and history text books cannot be trusted.
By taking Peekay under his tutelage, Doc becomes the next of Peekay's string of mentors. Doc's character introduces a couple of new vocabulary sets into the novel-that of Latin cacti names, and that of his quirky half-German half- invented dialect. He uses nonsense terms such as "absoloodle," and German exclamations such as "wunderbar." Doc is a caricatured character (he occupies the space of a kind of fairy godfather), who becomes a foil to Peekay's Granpa-the latter confines himself to the preened, meted world of his rose garden, while the former exposes himself to the dangerous, exciting life of cacti and aloes. Although Peekay now has his mother and Granpa with him, there exists a glaring absence of anyone playing a truly parental role in his life. Doc fills this role. Instead of caring for her son, Peekay's mother neglects him in favor of the Lord, and Peekay in fact plays the role of parent to her. Peekay subtly underscores his mother's hypocrisy-while subscribing to the Lord as the only avatar of morality and modesty, she enjoys the status that Peekay's skill at classical piano affords her.
Chapter Nine demonstrates a distinct method in Peekay's narrative style: he begins to provide the reader with recaps, or summaries, of events that have already happened. For example, he recapitulates the events of Chapter Eight and the beginning of Chapter Nine as follows: "The loneliness birds had flown away and I had grown up and made a new friend called Doc and had learned several new things." The abundance of the coordinating conjunction "and" stresses Peekay's eagerness to tally these occasions-the effect is one of insistence and continuity. The reader can almost hear the tremble in Peekay's voice. The older narrator-Peekay reminds the reader that the younger Peekay has to hold on to the constants in his life-even the loneliness birds have become a constant. The reader senses Peekay's need to impart his life story-it is not a self- aggrandizing process, but a way in which he can circumscribe the uncertainties of his past. Indeed, the chapter concludes with the adult Peekay foreshadowing the loss of Doc from his life.
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