The Power of One: Author and Hero: Bryce Courtenay’s Novel on Youth in Apartheid South Africa

Bryce Courtenay: Author Bio

The Power of One is a fictionalized story of Bryce Courtenay’s childhood. Courtenay was born in South Africa in 1933 and spent his early years on an isolated farm. Like his fictional hero Peekay, Courtenay began boxing for self-defense as a five-year-old at private school and then moved to Barberton. A German music teacher named Doc gave young Courtenay his true childhood education, which was followed by South African boarding school and Journalism school in London.

Forbidden to return to South Africa because he had led an educational program for native Africans, Courtenay moved to Sydney, Australia. He married a woman named Benita and had three sons, Brett, Adam, and Damon. Damon, a hemophiliac, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during the early days of the disease. After Damon died tragically of AIDS, Courtenay wrote April Fool’s Day, the compelling novel that commemorated his son and brought attention to the AIDS epidemic.

Bryce Courtenay is the best-selling author of Australia. His many novels include a sequel to The Power of One, Tandia, in which Peekay’s story travels a separate path from Courtenay’s life. The Power of One enjoys international success and was made into a movie with Morgan Freeman. Courtenay continues to write prolifically. By his own account, he writes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 8 months a year.

You can find out more on Bryce Courtenay’s website.

Peekay: Character and Development

Though Peekay’s story parallels the author’s childhood, Courtenay is quick to point out that Peekay is “larger than life” (see the ‘In His Words’ section of Courtenay’s website). Indeed, Peekay’s intellectual faculties, athletic ability, and intrinsic goodness (demonstrated by his continual empathy for all types of people, even those whose characters are flawed) are at the core of the novel.

The Power of One is a modern bildungsroman, a novel about the moral and intellectual education of the protagonist. Peekay’s challenge is both to master his abilities and to define himself apart from them. He begins with innate intelligence and moral compass but meets various ‘teachers’ who sculpt his character and point his way. The end of this education and the beginning of his adulthood are represented by the last part of the book, in which he rejects the advice of everyone around him and goes to work in the mines.

This is the first step he takes without direction or help from any of his teacher figures.

Peekay’s fight with the Judge is his final step to reclaiming his selfhood. Peekay was marked by mistreatment from the Judge in childhood and has carried an abused child’s shame and self-doubt throughout his youth, despite his talents. Peekay’s childhood self emerges in the fight when he cries, “you killed Grandpa Chook!” (his pet chicken). He carves his mark, PK, into the skin of the man who had marked him emotionally and feels cleansed for the first time in years.

Check it: Types of Allegorical Novels: Spiritual Journey, Human Experience, Political and Social Satire

Leave a Reply