The Power of One

by: Bryce Courtenay

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols

The Full Moon

In Peekay's experience, the full moon symbolizes death: always a self- conscious narrator, he in fact points the reader in Chapter Nineteen to the fact that it was a full moon on the nights of both Granpa Chook and Geel Piet's deaths. When Doc discusses his death with Peekay for the first time, at the crystal cave of Africa, it is also a full moon. Interestingly, one of the final images of the novel is also a full moon-although no person has here died, perhaps this symbolizes the death of Peekay's hatred for the Judge. Usually a sign of rejuvenation, the reversal of the moon symbol in The Power of One to symbolize death perhaps suggests the confluence of birth and death-it is thus a symbol of optimism and hope in spite of the horrors it sometimes witnesses.

The Snake

Snakes in the novel first appear as literal rather than symbolic. In Peekay's earliest experiences, he refers euphemistically to his circumcised penis as his "hatless snake." This "hatless snake" is a source of shame to him, as his boarding school companions mock and torture him as a result. Granpa Chook appears to show his support for Peekay, and his faith in Peekay's ability to transcend the shame of his "hatless snake," by biting off the head o an actual snake. Peekay hangs the dead snake from a branch outside his hostel window. Later in the novel, however, the snake moves to symbolic status. In Chapter Eighteen and Chapter Chapter Twenty-Three, Peekay invokes the symbol of the snake by using the expression of "sloughing" his outer skin to reveal his real self. In such a way, Peekay mentally conquers his early embarrassment over his "hatless snake." Instead of feeling exposed and vulnerable, he learns to accept himself as he is. By the end of the novel, the vision of the black mamba snake becomes a symbol of imminent danger-the black mamba snake, a dream sign from Doc, forewarns Peekay of his disastrous accident in the mines, and of his fight with the Judge.

The Tadpole Angel, or Onoshobishobi Ingelosi

As with the symbol of the full moon, Peekay himself analyzes and deconstructs the symbol of the Tadpole Angel. In Chapter Twenty-One he finally comes to terms with the black people's legend about him, and tells Morrie that the Tadpole Angel is "a symbol, a symbol of hope." This analysis of the symbol's importance is confirmed by Peekay's experience in the Northern Rhodesian mines, where the black mine workers view him as a beacon of hope. Peekay's acceptance of the symbol is an important turning point in the novel- previous to that point, he experienced embarrassment at the idea of being the Tadpole Angel and tried to shun the symbol. Along with assuming the role of the Tadpole Angel, symbol of hope, Peekay has to confront hope's opposite: after the boxing match with Gideon Mandoma he gains foresight to the atrocities that lie ahead for South Africa.