A display of novels must contain books that illustrate life lessons, outlooks and opinions. A wide variety of beliefs must be represented in these novels. Topics of individualism, faith, hope, philanthropy, racism, achievement, and survival are of great importance, and a good book is to give us insight to these, as well as satisfy the reader with action and plot. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay does this by using the storyline of events of a young boy, Peekay, in south Africa to portray his personal development while he chases his goal of becoming a boxer. This book brings up interesting themes and ideas for the reader to consider and should be included in the Books'R'Us display; it encourages thought on its advocation.
Racism is a big issue in South Africa. The story takes place in the early 1900s and there is conflict between the influence of Nazi Germany and Britain on South Africa. There is still racial tension from the Boer war that took place at the very end of the nineteenth century. The poor and rich are divided, as well as blacks and whites. Some speak Shangaan and others speak English. Peekay is an English speaking boy and is sent to a boarding school of children speaking the native language. He is ridiculed by the older kids and bullied. This is an early introduction of the issue and effects of racism to young Peekay. He leaves this boarding school to find his grandpa moved to a new town. His nanny is fired because she holds onto traditional customs and will not convert to Christianity. His mother converts while he is in school. He sees the connection of racism and religion and the special treatment and agendas of racism and religion. His German friend, Doc, is sentenced to prison until World War Two is over. Evidence is given to show that Doc is innocent but because of racial paranoia he is forced to stay in prison. Peekay visits the prison and develops a strong sense of compassion for the colored men who are treated unfairly because of skin.
His dream is to become a boxer; he sees the influence of racism on boxing as well. His friend, Hoppie is a very talented boxer but never has success because of his ethnicity. Peekay questions the fairness of this, and it influences him to spur social change. He is given boxing lessons from the prisoners who he befriends and creates a way to help these prisoners by starting a club. This club utilizes prisoners to keep the tobacco industry going in South Africa at the time. Peekay is devastated when one of the prison officials kills a prisoner because he does not like their friendship.
Peekay examines the purpose and influence of religion. On pages 189 - 190, his nanny gives him reason to believe that there is a God that is unconcerned with the affairs of man, and that it is foolishness to think that we should go to God with our happenings. This theology encourages the belief that God is shaped according to our likings when we believe that he is directly involved with our lives. It makes it seem dumb that he would drop to the level of low importance that we are at or to care about what we do. Peekay's mother is Christian and she keeps trying to convince Peekay to convert. Peekay is hesitant to do this because of what he sees. He sees the negative effect of racism with religion. In chapter eleven He senses the insecurity of those professing Christ, and their choice to do so as a form of "fire insurance" or "buying real estate in heaven." He views self-righteousness as the outcome and flaw of blindly unquestioning morality. On page 369 he says, "I would have to trust myself and my own answers, and be true to my own convictions. If I was to survive I would have to follow the truth as I knew it in my heart." This shows his belief in serving the conscious because of the inconsistency and misinterpretation, or selective interpretation of conventional morality. At the end of the novel he prays to the "lord" to help him with the necessary things he needs for college. He is still hesitant to rely on faith in God for what he needs. He eventually gets what he needs because of the faith and support from his friends within and without of the church. Indirectly this supports faith in a God who works through people, and exists by working through people. Peekay resolution to follow his gut and personal convictions is based on faith in "the power of one" to be moved to execute all things good. The power of one defined on page 21 as "A flame that must never be allowed to go out. That as long as it burns within us we cannot be destroyed" Specific reference to God in this new-age sounding "power of one" phrase is never specifically mentioned, although interpretations can feed off its implications. Courtenay's choice to remain arbitrary instead of directly state a spiritual doctrine supports his theme of fighting convention.
A constant battle is portrayed in a number of different ways. The halocaustic references to Hitler and the bullying at the boarding school give off a totalitarian atmosphere. On page 62, Peekay tells himself "You've [sic] got to be quick on your feet in this world if you [sic] want to survive" There is a tone of transparency on the behalf of Peekay that creates a contrast of the mundane corrupt world around him. Convention is discouraged and compared to mediocrity, shame, doubt, and corruption. Racism is also viewed as a form of convention. As stated on page 172, "It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention." The world is full of doubters and nonbelievers who set standards and conventions and these institutions are laziness and discourage originality success and happiness. It is good to follow ones dreams and not look to religion or convention for answers; however without faith in "the power of one" nothing can be accomplished. The hindrances discouraged are the efforts of faith in convention rather than faith in hope and love.
It must be stated, however, that this theme is very arbitrary and may be misinterpreted as conceited. Courtenay could have done a better job of really driving home the fact that selflessness is still needed for doubt and skepticism of the worldly system of institutions and conventions, whether those are religious, racial or stereotypical corruptions. Furthermore, the emphasis on "the power of one" and the cynical skepticism of any wisdom that has been gathered by a person besides the self leads the reader to believe that all things external are discouraged. It verges on supporting a belief that the self is a God and cannot call on support, wisdom, guidance, or opinions of others due to their capacity for corruption. A balance of discernment and influence is not fully established; it takes a stretched interpretation to view it in this light.