The Power of One

by: Bryce Courtenay

Chapter Eleven

Peekay and Geel Piet have a successful black market business of tobacco, letters, sugar and salt when Marie's tobacco crop fails. The "letters" component involves Geel Piet dictating letters from the prisoners to their families, transcribed by Doc. Mrs. Boxall sends the letters. She begins "The Sandwich Fund" through which she collects clothes and money for the prisoners and their families. The Sandwich Fund allows the continuation of the tobacco market- people, unaware of what The Sandwich Fund really is-bring cigarette butts and sometimes packets of unsmoked cigarettes. The black prisoners begin to chant whenever Peekay passes them-they call him the "Tadpole Angel" in Zulu. Peekay asks Geel Piet how they derived the name. Geel Piet explains that Doc is known as "Amasele" (the Frog) since he plays his piano during the night, and therefore Peekay-seen as Doc's boy-is the tadpole.

Analysis

The most important function of Chapter Eleven is to introduce Geel Piet, the Cape Colored man who becomes Peekay's first private boxing coach. Geel Piet initiates the novel's extended metaphor of "shadows"-Geel Piet runs the prison's shadowy black market world and, as neither a black nor a white man, he is "the limbo man of Africa, despised by both sides." The Cape Colored people of South Africa hail chiefly from the Cape Province, and have as their ancestors a mixture of whites, blacks, Indians, and Malay people (brought to South Africa in the 1600s as indentured slaves). They speak Afrikaans, which is why Geel Piet has an Afrikaans name. District Six was a region in the middle of Cape Town where middle-class people of all races peacefully coexisted before the Nationalist government began evicting people in 1966. With bulldozers, they razed most of the diverse and vibrant village.

Peekay's characterization of Geel Piet reveals his own lack of "soppy liberalism"--Peekay clearly sees that there are immoral black and "colored" South Africans, just as there are white South Africans untainted by racism. Geel Piet, Peekay explains, has no inherent morality--he simply plays to win. Peekay does not attempt to magnify Geel Piet's generosity to him into saint-like behavior. He understands that Geel Piet is a criminal and he does not try to sanitize him through his descriptions. He admits that Geel Piet is "as ruthless as his oppressors." Chapter Eleven thus tackles the complex question of where morality resides in 1940s South Africa with brutal candor. Peekay occasionally has to delve into the first person plural in order to explain his and Doc's difficult position. For example, he explains their approach as follows: "We saw the brutality around us not as a matter of taking an emotional side or of good versus evil, but as the nature of evil itself, where good and bad do not come into play." Peekay's Granpa becomes Peekay's model for making up one's own, individual morality-he despises "unquestioning moral rectitude." Peekay's absence of self-righteousness makes him more appealing as a protagonist. Peekay's sense of humor and the fact that he does not always act according to strict morals (such as when he knocks Snotnose out with a "Liverpool Kiss") makes us more capable of identifying with him. This is important, since Peekay otherwise outshines everyone-at only nine years of age, he is extremely precocious. Indeed, Doc and Mrs. Boxall and many of the townspeople believe he is a "genius." The end of the chapter initiates a new kind of storytelling-the black prisoner's creation of a legend surrounding Peekay, the legend of the "Tadpole Angel." The permanence and aura of the black people's magic legend contrasts with Peekay's linear, ever-changing, logical narrative.