Which character do you find the most compelling and why?
Throughout a large portion of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Geel Piet is Peekay’s influential boxing coach, but he also faces many of his own struggles, making him all the more alluring of a character. As a lower-level boxing coach in the South African prison system, Piet is trapped in a very racist structure that uses every chance to bring him down. Being mixed race, Piet is constantly stuck in a limbo between the white and black sides of South Africa, although he is hated by all groups. Somehow, throughout all of this hate, Geel Piet manages to successfully train Peekay, who, under his instruction, never loses a fight. AS Peekay once states in the novel, “...I had absorbed a great deal over the past two years and even more over the six weeks Geel Piet had been coaching me”(Courtenay 217). Clearly, Geel Piet is an excellent boxing coach who has been entirely underestimated, considering he has taught Peekay more over six weeks than Peekay has learned over all of his time as a boxer. While he is an exceptional instructor, Piet is constantly both verbally and physically abused by the members of the gym. Eventually, he becomes the victim of a racially motivated murder. After being pushed into confessing, Lieutenant Borman cries, “I killed the bastard you hear?...He wouldn't tell me who gave him the letters, who brought the letters in”(Courtenay 303). In protecting Peekay from Borman by not revealing the underground prison trade he had started, Geel Piet was killed in cold blood. Piet risked his life to keep his student (and friend) safe, and in doing so he proved his bravery and loyalty. To conclude, all of these elements contribute to the complex and enticing character he is.
How is the setting important to the story? What do you know about the place and time period (you may have to look for information), and how did that affect the novel?
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay takes place in South Africa in the mid-1940’s, contributing to some of the main themes of the novel, including war, racism, and economic inequity. The novel begins with Peekay attending boarding school during World War II, and the fear of Hitler instilled in him by older boys is an important part of his journey. During this portion, Peekay acknowledges, “I told him and explained about the arrival any day now of Adolf Hitler, who was coming to march us into the sea”(Courtenay 34). Throughout this section of the novel, Peekay is bullied and intimidated by a group of boys and Hitler supporters who tell him the Nazis will take him away. This partially results in Peekays motivation to become a boxer, hence influencing his journey throughout the story. There are also many overt themes of racism that the time and setting of the novel impact. Although there is still much to be desired in the way of racial equality even today, it is clear that this book is set in a past time period because many characters are so unabashedly racist it couldn’t take place in modern times. As stated in the text, “ ‘Many mansions' is the Lord's way of saying that he loves all of mankind but that he recognizes there are differences, like black and white. So he has a place for black angels and another place for white angels,’ he said smugly”(Courtenay 258). By saying this, the pastor is telling Peekay and the rest of his sunday school class that, like South Africa at the time, heaven is segregated. This despicable mind set of “separate but equal” when many were not treated as equals, fortunately deteriorated following the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 in the year 1989. The setting of this novel plays a large role in the way many characters interact with one another, and especially in the many ways Peekay grows as a character throughout his time in South Africa.
Choose a minor character in the book and discuss what impact this character has on the plot, the other characters in the book, and on the resolution.
Hoppie Groenewald, a secondary character in The Power of One by bryce Courtenay , arguably has one of the greatest effects on Peekay and his overall arc as a character in the story. Hoppie is the person who first taught Peekay of boxing, instilling in him the idea of becoming welterweight champion of the world, which influences his entire journey from then on. Hoppie first teaches peekay to loves boxing, and Peekay at one point thinks to himself, “The last thing I remembered before I fell asleep again was the comforting feeling of my hands in the boxing gloves. “The equalizers” Hoppie had called them. Peekay had found the equalizers”( Courtenay 70). This is an important milestone for the young boy, because he has finally found something that gives him the ability to stand up to those who have always tried to bring him down, and trying on those gloves sets him on his new path to become the welterweight champion of the world. Hoppie also teaches Peekay one of the most important lessons he has learned, about boxing and life in general. Hoppie continuously states that one must box “first with the head, then with the heart”(Courtenay 102). This is a message Peekay carries with him throughout his entire life, and he regularly references it whenever he faces a tough opponent inside the ring. Overall, Hoppie Groenewald, while only making a brief appearance in the book, has a lasting effect on Peekay and helps shape him into a young man and a boxing legend.
Women characters influence Peekay’s life. Choose one and describe her attributes and contributions to Peekay’s growth and development
Peekays mother, while a minor character, has one of the greatest influences on his life. Very early in the novel, the reader learns that Peekays mother is out of the picture, due to her “nervous breakdown”. Peekay clearly states, “My life proper started at the age of five, when my mother had her nervous breakdown. I was torn from my lovely black nanny with her big white smile and sent to boarding school”(Courtenay 1). Peekays mother is the reason he was ever sent to boarding school in the first place, which is what began his entire journey as a boy and a boxer. In addition, when she finally leaves the institution, she fires Peekay’s beloved nanny (another important female figure) because she refuses to convert to the religion Peekay’s mother believes so strongly in. “ ‘Why, darling, your nanny has gone back to Zululand...I tried to bring her to the Lord but she hardened her heart against him’ ”(Courtenay 141). Peekays mother made a major life decision for Peekay, without ever thinking to consult him about it. While this is not a beneficial change to the young boys life, it represents a shift from childhood to young mahood for Peekay, he has cut a crucial tie to his past. To conclude, Peekay’s mother’s weaknesses and lack of stability are the cause of many developments in Peekays young life, and while they seem harmful, those developments are what set him on course to become a great boxer and to meet the people he does.
Choose one other character from your summer reading (you will have to complete both readings in order to answer this question) and compare and contrast that person to Peekay.
Marie- Laure from the novel All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is very similar to Peekay from The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay in many aspects, but they also differ from each other in a few respects. Both Marie-Laure and Peekay have a distinctly different trait than the people around them, that they feel ostracized or are sometimes ridiculed for. While Marie-Laure is blind, Peekay is the only english student in his African-dominated boarding school. As mentioned in The Power of One, “To the bitter Calvinist farmers,the sins of the fathers had been visited upon the sons, into the third generation. I was infected” (Courtenay 4). Both character feel like outcasts in their own right, but eventually learn to overcome the insecurity that partners their deviation from the norm. Similarly, both experience great loss and tragedy when it comes to their loved ones. Peekay deals with the loss of his beloved friend Doc, whereas Marie-Laure must cope with the loss of her father deep into the novel. This loss is illustrated when Marie-Laure thinks “three years and four months have passed since Papaleft and Saint Malo. One thousand two-hundred and twenty four days”(Doerr 370), and when Peekay remembers Doc, saying “Docs death left me completely numb. I went through the motions, but it was as though I had lost my center of gravity”(Courtenay 435). Both of these characters experience the loss of a loved one at a young age. Additionally, both of their stories take place around the time of World War II, but while Peekay deals with hate and racial prejudice in South Africa, Marie-Laure lives in the core of Ally-Axis warfare, France. While there are many significant differences between Marie-Laure and Peekay, they both face many similar struggles and obstacles they learn to overcome throughout a time of devastating war.