The Power of One is about the life of a boy named Peekay who overcame his rough and humble beginnings and later achieved his dreams of becoming a professional boxer. Peekay is a simple white English South African who grew up in South Africa during World War II and the beginning of the Apartheid era. He is an extremely likeable and competent young man who represents many qualities of generosity and unselfishness. Moreover, Peekay’s generosity and care for others leads him to find ways of helping black prisoners write and receive letters as well as teaching them to box. Because of Peekay’s sense of humor and his ability to criticize himself, we, the reader, are able to identify ourselves closely with him on extraordinary levels. Although we see his generous and unique background throughout this early childhood and later adulthood, he did not grow up with much of a family. His mother was often unnoticeable in his life as she constantly had nervous breakdowns which resulted in her absence when he was just five years old. His Nanny Zulu, on the other hand, was the woman to whom Peekay prayed and sought to obtain advice. His grandpa, although being a grumpy racist, helps Peekay convince his mother to allow the teaching of black inmates to box. In the end, Peekay’s childhood and acquaintances had an extensive impact on Peekay that not only transformed him into the man he dreamed of becoming, but also into the man he became.Through Peekay’s life struggles and honorable victories, the reader understands that it is not what we accomplish that makes us great; it is the journey and the limits we strive to overcome to achieve our goals that defines us as true champions.
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As a child, Peekay was sent away to Afrikaans boarding school where he was constantly bullied and hazed for being a young white Englishman. The Judge, an Afrikaans boy who solely diminishes Peekay throughout the novel, along with the jury, tease him for wetting his bed: “The pissing upon me by the Judge and the jury had them rocking and moaning and holding their hands to their ears. Such an indignity was surely beyond even the white manâ€¦In the sudden way of Africa it was dark now” (12). On a more personal level, the Judge convinces him that Hitler is on a mission to kill all Englishmen, take over England, and throw them into the sea: “‘Adolf Hitler is the king of Germany and God has sent him to take South Africa back from the English and give it to us.’ He jabbed at the swastika on his arm. ‘This is his sign . . . the swastika!’ (31). The hazing continues as the Judge and his jury interrogate Peekay about the origin of his name and pull down his pants in the process: “I stepped forward to stand directly in front of where he sat cross-legged on his bed. The Judge’s arm came up and my hand flew up to protect my face, but instead of hitting me he pulled at the cord of my pajama pants, which collapsed around my ankles” (37). Furthermore, during his last days of his first year at boarding school, Peekay is forced to eat human feces and although as a young boy this traumatizes him, this unthinkable act embeds drive and determination into his fragile heart.
The torture continues when Peekay discovers that diseases are present on a nearby chicken farm where his grandpa and mother are living. After being categorized as a prisoner of war, Peekay was afflicted Chinese torture: “I was required to hold the bar out in front of me while he timed each session, so that I would have to hold the bar up longer than the previous time before dropping it” (43). After Chinese torture, Peekay was used as shooting practice for troopers, Nazis, and any other personnel who wanted to enhance their skills: “For shooting practice I was required to stretch my arms out on either side of me with my palms open and turned upward. An empty jam tin was placed on either hand, and each of the storm troopers was allowed two shots to try to knock the tins down” (43). However, he is able to overcome his problems and gain a spirit called, “The Power of One,” and is eventually given boxing lessons at a prison as he gets one step closer to this childhood dreams.
Bullying has many effects on people that often go unrecognized and more literally, unnoticed. For Peekay, the fact he was bullied was a “gift” for three simple reasons. First, because of the Judge’s harsh humor toward his bed wetting issue, Peekay was cured of this problem by his Nanny Zulu. More importantly, he received a unique spirit and unrivaled determination that led him on a path to success throughout his life. Second, he was given the drive and heart he needed to become a boxer as he learned that it is our differences that make us strong and talents that define who we are. Third, not only was his personality changed for the better, but also his mindset was astonishingly altered as he began to believe in himself which allowed him to chase and accomplish his dreams.
Role of Apartheid and Camouflage in Peekay’s Life
Throughout the novel, a theme that takes shape is the power of Apartheid and what affect it ultimately has on Peekay. Apartheid, in South Africa, is the system of segregation and discrimination of specific races. The birth of Apartheid began with the 1913 Land Act which marked the beginning of territorial segregation by forcing black Africans to live in new places and made it illegal for them to perform any kind of work around their homes. Later, the Great Depression and World War II brought a surplus of economic difficulties to South Africa which not only put them in debt, but also convinced the government to increase their policies of racial segregation. A few decades passed and after the election of the Afrikaner National Party, whites were separated from whites and non-whites were separated from non-whites. However, cross-racial marriages and sexual relations were banned. Following a series of new land acts, more than eighty percent of land was marked to white control and private facilities were built for each race.
There were many oppositions to Apartheid which took form immediately in South Africa as riots, protests, and non-violent actions constantly broke out. Police open fired on a group of Africans where about eighty seven were killed and nearly two hundred wounded. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, international attention was brought to the controversy and as a result, in 1973, Apartheid was abolished. However, the United States and United Kingdom provided economic sanctions on South Africa. In The Power of One, Apartheid is a symbol of both fear and confusion. Peekay is confused as a young boy when he sees local signs that say, “Blacks only,” as he is unable to understand the difference his elders see: “Half a dozen Africans were asleep at the far end of the verandah, where there was a second entrance to the shop. Above this entrance was written BLACKS ONLY. I wondered briefly why whites were not allowed to enter” (55). Furthermore, as Peekay grows up, he fears that Apartheid is becoming routine and ordinary for his country and people thus he seeks to find change.
As a feeble young five year old, in order to endure boarding school, Peekay developed the classic technique of camouflage where he would blend in. Not only was camouflage important for his survival at school, but also it was a necessity to ensure his survival of life. He learns that it is extremely dangerous to stand out and that hiding in the shadows is the best form of camouflage. This is how he survives prison, boarding school, and the Apartheid era. At one point, Peekay loses himself and forgets his camouflage: “I tried to cover my face but my arms refused to life from my lap. ‘Look what happens when you forget your camouflage,” (33). Moreover, it was extremely important for Peekay to always be aware of the situation and who was around him because he never knew what the next few minutes could hold.
Throughout segregation and discrimination, the symbol of a snake beings to take place in the novel. At boarding school, Peekay was hazed for having a circumcised penis and often brought to shame because of it. Later in the novel, however, the symbol of the snake shedding its skin is used to show when Peekay goes home after each term of school, he is coming into his true self and accepting who he is as a person: “Going home at the end of each term was like sloughing a skin. The joy of a small town lies in its unchanging natureâ€¦I liked the idea of nothing ever changing in Barberton, it gave me a sense of belonging” (379). Following, when Peekay goes to visit Doc, a hometown best friend, he sees a black mamba which is suggesting danger and forewarns his future: “Then the head of the black mamba rose above the edge of the shelf two feet from where I sat. Its flat anthracite head froze inches above the shelfâ€¦The snake could only have come out of the cave. Doc has sent me a sign. I knew what I was required to do” (473). Peekay describes the nature of a black mamba snake as it is the most deadly snake in the world. If its partner is killed, the second snake will often wait for the killer to return in order to take revenge.
An important question that comes up in the novel is, “Is revenge everything?” Toward the end of the novel, Peekay fights his childhood nemesis, the Judge, and after beating him gruesomely, he carves his initials over the Judge’s swastika tattoo: “The blood, before it started to run down Botha’s arm, made a perfect Union Jack. Across the jagged blue lines of the swastika the mamba-driven blade cut ‘PK.’ Then followed the injection of poison” (512). The poison traveled throughout the Judge’s body and ultimately killed him. Thus, we are left with the idea of revenge and the question, “Is violent revenge of past experiences ultimately the answer to a rough and bitter childhood?” In Peekay’s mind, the answer was simply yes: “I felt clean, all of the bone-beaked loneliness birds banished, their rocky nests turned to river stones. Cool, clear water bubbled over them, streams in the desert” (513). Peekay felt cleansed as he diminished a once childhood fear. But, do we see a different side of Peekay? Is there a violent and uncharacteristically violent Peekay we have not been introduced to? Or, is this type of act moral and righteous?
There are many instances of revenge that have occurred throughout my life as a young adult. It was the start of my annual travel soccer season and the team had one goal in mind-beat Marlboro Gold. Last season, we lost in the championship to Marlboro Gold who had won the title for the last five years. Everybody despised them not only because they were practically impossible to beat, but also because they lacked sportsmanship and respectful fans as the parents were constantly rude and ejected to the nearby parking lots. In preparation for our challenge, we trained hard and long every day starting two months before the season. However, first we had to win our group title in order to advance and play Marlboro in the playoffs. With little doubt, we demolished every team in the surrounding area and we were playoff bound. After cruising by the quarter-finals and the semi-finals with ease, it was time for the ultimate test.
The whistle sounded and the championship game began. Five minutes into the game, breakaway, goal!! Marlboro scored quite easily and took a strong 1-0 lead. Another ten minutes and another goal was scored my Marlboro and my teammates began losing hope. They bowed their heads, lowered their shoulders and became limp and life-less. For a second, I thought it was over and our dream of winning a championship was destroyed. It seemed like an eternity, but finally it was half-time. After dousing ourselves with water and an intriguing half-time speech by our coach, the second half began. Five minutes went by, then ten minutes, then fifteen, and all of a sudden, there were only a few minutes left in the game. Our captain stole the ball, dribbled down the field, took a long shot and scored!! Suddenly we had life! The game began again, we regained possession and with quick combination play I was on a breakaway and another goal! We had scored two goals in only three minutes and now we awaited overtime, a first goal wins format. I had never been more nervous in my life when overtime began. After constant chances for both teams, we had our opportunity.
We had a fast break down the sideline and a cross in on goal. As the ball floated, for what seemed like forever, I adjusted my body and put myself in position to head the ball into the net. And after a blink, the ball landed in the net and we won the championship. Upon the crying of sore-losing nine year olds, I was immediately dog piled in the middle of the field. I share this story not to exemplify one of my favorite childhood soccer memories, but to prove that with hard work and effort, dreams can be accomplished just as Peekay fulfilled his ambition of becoming a boxer and obtaining revenge on a childhood bully.
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Similar to Peekay’s story as well as mine, there exists extreme synergy between the fight and determination of Peekay and that of Adonis Johnson in the compelling movie, Creed. Creed is the story of a man named Adonis who is the son of an accomplished former heavy weight boxer, Apollo Creed, who is serving time in Los Angeles youth prison. Not knowing his mother, she bails him out and takes Adonis in for herself. As an adult, Adonis obtains a steady job at a security firm, but he walks away in order to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional boxer. His mother quickly opposes his idea as Apollo was killed in the ring and fears the same will happen to her son. Ultimately, the decision is Adonis’s and after being rejected from many different boxing academies, he travels to Philadelphia to connect with his father’s old friend and rival, Rocky Balboa.
Adonis’s journey to become a boxer is rough and unsettling and similar to Peekay, Adonis learns the hard life and uneasy task of becoming a professional boxer. Adonis travels to a local gym where the trainer is a family member who has shut him out of his life since early childhood. Adonis enters the ring, puts his Mustang up for wager, and challenges the number six ranked light heavyweight boxer in the world. After a few seconds, Adonis knocks him out proving his worth. Next up is Danny Wheeler, the number two ranked light heavyweight boxer in the world, with a record of thirty-one wins and zero losses. Adonis is knocked out after laying a few hits. We see how an ego can get the best of someone and how important it is to be humble. Here is the signifying difference between Peekay and Adonis. However, at the end of the film, Adonis has to start his legacy as he challenges Ricky Conlan, the number one ranked light heavyweight boxer in the world. It is an extremely rough fight, and halfway through, Adonis’s left eye is completely shut from taking a beating. His coach wants him to give up, but Adonis thinks otherwise:
“I gotta prove it.”
“That I’m not a mistake.”
The final round begins with Adonis landing some shots of his own on Conlan. With ten seconds left, Adonis lands a hit so powerful, it sends the Conlan to the mat, but he rises to his feet after nine seconds of the ten second count. In the end, the decisions comes down to the judges where they declare Ricky Conlan the victor. Relating back to The Power of One, Peekay is clearly Adonis in the situation and uniquely, Ricky Conlan is the Judge. Conlan gave Adonis little respect throughout the film calling him a failure and incapable of becoming a boxer. The main difference between the two examples is Peekay ends victorious, while Adonis comes up short. However, both stories teach us that it is not the end result that is important; it is the drive, determination, and heart you hold within yourself that makes you a true champion.
I learned much about who I am from reading The Power of One and furthermore, found ways in which I relate to Peekay I never thought possible. Although this may sound completely conceded, I found that like Peekay, I am also extremely talented and always find ways to achieve my goals. Also, my talents and accomplishments represent the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to be. This led me to discover that it is our personalities that distinguish us, but our talents that define us. Furthermore, this reminds me of a time during my sophomore year that shaped me into the person I am today and the person I am proud to be:
It happened on a frigid ten-degree day in Mercersburg. I was the backup lacrosse goalie and looked forward for my chance to play in a varsity game. When there were thirty seconds left in the game and our starting goalie received a penalty, without hesitation, I threw down my over-sized football coat and jogged out to the net, my legs frozen from standing on the sideline. There was a shot after ten seconds that hit the post and rolled to the back corner of the field. Mercersburg retrieved the ball and maintained possession. With fifteen seconds remaining in the game, a shot was taken that bounced and hit me in the chest and landed in front of me. I immediately pounced on the ball to make sure Mercersburg could not scramble the cage, and after a few seconds, the whistle sounded, the game was over, and our team won. My teammates dog piled me for having stopped the goal that would have tied the game and forced overtime.
In conclusion, Peekay taught me to always believe in yourself. It is important to always strive for your dreams, no matter the difficulty, and to never sell yourself short. Peekay learned in his life-from the rough bullying, Apartheid, and other struggles he experienced-that after hard work, he achieved his dreams and obtained his revenge. In Creed, Adonis trained his whole life to follow in his father’s footsteps and, although he fell short in the end, his heart was greater than other light heavyweight champions in the world and that is what truly made him unique. In my life, I sought revenge in the championship game against a rival soccer team. Also, I made two incredible saves in lacrosse that won the team the game. Most importantly, it is not what we accomplish that makes us great, it is the journey and the limits we strive to overcome to achieve our goals that defines us as champions-the pursuit of a dog pile, the power of one.
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