When one is faced with the hardest of challenges, will one discover the courage hidden within oneself? Courage is one of the main themes discussed in the book, The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. The main character, Peekay, is a young boy who has to face many challenges in his early life, and it is necessary for him to muster the courage to overcome his obstacles. Throughout the book, Peekay meets many individuals who embody the idea of courage and teach Peekay the true meaning of bravery. These characters include Big Hettie, Hoppie, and Doc. Courage is one of the most important characteristics for Peekay to possess, as it will play a fundamental part in his victories against his numerous oppressors.
A huge inspiration in Peekay’s young life was a man named Hoppie Groenewald. Hoppie is a guard and conductor on South African Railways, and he is also a talented boxer. Hoppie teaches Peekay about friendship, intelligence, and the art of being a true man. His most important lesson to Peekay is “first with the head and then with the heart”(100). Peekay remembers this throughout his life, always thinking first, and acting second. Hoppie also taught Peekay that “small can beat big if you have a plan”(100). Hoppie embodied both of these principles throughout the short time Peekay knew him, as he beat a much larger boxer by using his intelligence over his strength. Peekay recalls this particular fight every time he doubts his strength, both in his own boxing career and in his personal life.
“Pride is holding your head up when everyone around you has theirs bowed. Courage is what makes you do it”(115). The woman who says this is one of the most influential women in Peekay’s life. Peekay meets this woman, named Big Hettie, on the train back to his hometown. Big Hettie teaches Peekay many things, but this one lesson of courage has stuck with him his entire life. Big Hettie, like Peekay, has faced countless hardships in her life, but rose to the challenge and found the valor within herself. Not only is Big Hettie one of the few solid examples of bravery in young Peekay’s life, but she also becomes one of his first friends. Although Peekay and Big Hettie’s friendship is cut short with Hettie’s passing, her exemplary acts of courage live on through Peekay’s life.
While both Hoppie and Hettie were excellent examples of the courage Peekay needed in his life, a man named simply, Doc, was the biggest influence in Peekay’s life. Where Hoppie and Hettie only knew Peekay for a few days each, Doc and Peekay’s friendship lasted years. Doc was a professor of music who shared a love of teaching Peekay. Peekay and Doc quickly struck up a companionship, which deepened into the most important friendship in Peekay’s life. Doc, whowas falsely imprisoned for the duration of the war, showed Peekay how to stand up to his oppressors, and to ignore those who only mean to bring you down.Doc taught Peekay a plethora of lessons, most importantly, of course, were Doc’s lessons of courage. Although Doc was a musician by trade, he was terrified of performing in front of large crowds, stemming from an unfortunate incident years ago. Doc, however, is able to overcome his own fears in order to bring joy to the imprisoned around him. This teaches Peekay that it is necessary to look beyond yourself and help others with your gifts.
Despite everything that is happening in Peekay’s life, he continues to thrive personally. “ I had, by all accounts, a brilliant school career, getting my colors in rugby and three times for boxing as well as being head prefect and a company commander in the school cadet corps. While my music hadn’t really progressed, I was still considered among the more able musicians” (461).Peekay excels in school, no longer fearing retribution for his achievements. Peekay is finally able to enjoy being the best, he finally gets to show off his talents, and finally gets to be celebrated for his accomplishments. He no longer has to fight against great injustice, but instead Peekay gets to find the courage in a normal life. After Doc’s death, Peekay continues his schooling, and eventually goes to work in a diamond mine. This job is treacherous and extremely tough,and Peekay shows his courage by keeping at it. Peekay says, “Mine rules did not permit grizzly men to climb up into the mouth of the stope: being caught doing this meant instant dismissal. But because we were forced to do it at least twice duringa shift, the shift boss would stay away from the grizzly levels so that he wouldn’t catch you”(489). This shows both Peekay’s courage and his determination to get the job done, however difficult and demanding it is.After working in the mine for almost a year, Peekay finally raises enough money to attend three years at Oxford. Whilst at a bar, Peekay comes face to face with his grade school bully, The Judge. Peekay, being a talented and experienced boxer, and The Judge, get into a fighting match. Peekay wins, of course, but it is what he says at the end that shows he is the true champion. Peekay says, “There was nothing more to say. The slate was wiped clean. The hate was gone”(513). Peekay had finally found the courage to let go. He had found it within himself to let the past go, and to move on with his life. Peekay had discovered the most important act of bravery, the courage in letting go.
While Peekay’s story is a work of fiction, courage rings true during the real-life situations The Power of One is based upon. It was of the utmost importance for all involved to be courageous, in order to win the war.An excellent example of such bravery were the freedom songs sung by the Afrikaners. The freedom songs were vital during apartheid, helping to raise spirits and stay positive. The Afrikaners remained resilient and showed immense bravery in the darkest of times. Another example of courage was Steve Biko. Biko was an anti-apartheid activist, who fought hard to end the racial segregation. He was unfortunately hung for his refusal to turn in his comrades. Biko showed bravery in his determination to protect his allies, and for this he was deified as one of the few anti-apartheid heroes.
Through these brave people, Peekay was shown the courage needed to overcome every obstacle. All of these individuals, both fictional and real-life, demonstrate the valor necessary to win the raging war, both literally and figuratively. Peekay is heavily influenced by the courageous lives these persons lead, and translates their principles into his own life. Courage becomes the most important of Peekay’s characteristics through the novel, as it is crucial for Peekay to defeat his opponents and to continue on in his challenging life.