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The Power of One
Author Bryce Courtenay
Type of work Novel
Genre Bildungsroman, popular sports fiction, adventure novel
Time and place written 1980s, Australia
Date of first publication 1989
Publisher William Heinemann Ltd.
The Power of One is narrated by Peekay, the protagonist. Peekay narrates from some point in the future, as an adult looking back on his early childhood and adolescence.
Point of View Peekay narrates in the first person, allowing the reader insight only into his thoughts and feelings. In such a way, the novel often lapses into stream-of- consciousness as Peekay trusts the reader with the ruminations and questions spinning through his mind. Peekay's detailed commentary on boxing games affords the novel a third-person quality at times. Very occasionally the novel takes on an epistolary style through the inclusion of letters to Peekay from various characters.
Tone Peekay's tone towards his younger self is gently ironic as he laughs at his early misunderstandings and misconceptions about the world. As he describes the events of his adolescence, in Book Two and Book Three, his tone becomes less forgiving and he describes the tragedies and comedies of his young manhood with critical distance.
Setting (time) Roughly 1939 to 1951, the World War II period and the beginning of the apartheid era in South Africa
Setting (place) South Africa in Book One and Book Two, Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) in Book Three
Protagonist Peekay, an English-speaking white South African boy
Major conflict After suffering from a traumatic childhood in an Afrikaans boarding school, Peekay struggles throughout the novel to discover and maintain within himself what he refers to as "the power of one" - that is, the independence of spirit that allows one to survive any situation, regardless of how hostile.
Rising action Peekay's anger at the Judge for killing his chicken Granpa Chook, Hoppie Groenewald's introducing Peekay to boxing, Peekay's boxing matches throughout the novel - all of which he wins, Geel Piet's death, Doc's death, Peekay's loss of the Rhodes scholarship, Peekay's near-death accident in the mines
Climax The climax arrives only at the very end of the novel, when seventeen-year-old Peekay comes face-to-face with his childhood nemesis, Jaapie Botha - or simply "the Judge." Botha, who has become temporarily insane from what the miners call a "powderheadache," searches for Peekay in the miners' bar, swearing to kill him.
Falling action In the fight of his life, Peekay retaliates and wins - he leaves Jaapie Botha lying in a pool of blood and vomit on the floor, having carved a Union Jack and his initials over Botha's swastika tattoo. He has avenged Granpa Chook. He leaves the bar to discover that the loneliness birds - which have always haunted him - have gone.
Themes The slow poison of 'apartheid,' the importance of camouflage for survival, the necessary coexistence of logic and magic, the complicated relationship between boxing and fighting
Motifs African osmosis, loneliness birds, fairy tales
Symbols the full moon, the snake, the Tadpole Angel or Onoshobishobi Ingelosi
Foreshadowing Peekay training to become a "spiritual terrorist", his theory of "winning" which is later taken up by sports psychiatrists, Peekay's foresight after his boxing match with Gideon Mandoma as to the atrocities that will occur in South Africa, Peekay's escape from the mining accident
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Power of One!