The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is a coming-of-age story about a white South African boy in the 1930s and 1940s. The narrator is raised in a confusing environment of violence, death, and racial and cultural hatred. Throughout the course of the story, he learns to rely on himself and believe that all people are equal.
In the first years of his life, the narrator of The Power of One lives on a farm with his mother and a black wet nurse, Nanny, who teaches him to speak Zulu and other African languages. When he is five years old, his mother has a nervous breakdown and he is sent to boarding school. The boys at the school are all white, but only the narrator is of English descent. His classmates and teachers are Afrikaaners, white South Africans who speak a language related to Dutch.
Because of his heritage, the narrator becomes the target of vicious bullying. The oldest boy at the school, called the Judge, leads a systematic campaign of cruelty against the narrator. He and the other boys regularly beat the narrator and urinate on him in the shower. They nickname him Pisskop, Afrikaans for pisshead. The narrator develops a bed-wetting problem, for which his teacher beats him daily with a rawhide whip called a sjambok.
When the narrator goes home for the holidays, he tells Nanny about his bed-wetting problem and the resulting beatings. She calls on Inkozi-Inkozikazi, a Zulu medicine man, to cure the narrator. The medicine man performs a mysterious cure and gives the narrator a chicken, Grandpa Chook, who becomes the boy’s only friend at school. Although the bed-wetting problem stops, the bullying and abuse continue. Near the end of the year, the narrator offends the Judge by comparing a swastika tattoo on the Judge’s arm to the tattoos many black women have. The Judge and his friends kill Grandpa Chook, which devastates the narrator.
After this traumatic year, the narrator gives himself a new nickname, Peekay, formed from the initials of Pisskop. Instead of going home to his mother’s farm, he is sent to live at his grandfather’s home in the South African town of Barberton. On the train to his new home, Peekay makes friends with a guard named Hoppie Groenewald. Hoppie treats Peekay with kindness and gentleness, taking care of him while he waits for a train transfer to Barberton. Peekay quickly begins to idolize Hoppie, especially...
(The entire section is 1568 words.)
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