Example Of Essay On The Power Of One
Throughout history, many books have been authored by different authors exploring some of the cultural clashes in the society. The authors of these books have explored different cultural clashes in the society including the factors that fuel them as well as how these clashes are proliferated. One of the books that explores a common cultural clash is the “The Power of One”. This is a book authored by Bryce Courtenay and released in 1989. The book’s setting is 1930’s and 1940’s South Africa, a time when apartheid was fast gaining pace in South Africa. The main protagonist in the book is “Peekay”, an English boy whose life experiences are documented in the book. In the beginning, Peekay is a weak and defenseless boy who is constantly bullied but as he grows up; he becomes a strong and independent man who even has the ability to face his former bullies. It is often said that names play a critical role in the power of one, that is, the power of an individual. It gives one an identity as well as value in the community and in this novel; Peekay is accorded different names that espouse different identities, as well as values.
One of the names that the protagonist is given is “Pisskop”. This is, in fact, a very derogatory name that is given to the main character by a bully named the “Judge” during his time in boarding school. This name is motivated by the fact that the protagonist is a serial bed wetter. In fact, the name Pisskop is loosely translated to mean “Pisshead” in Afrikaans. This name gives the main character an unwanted identity that sets him apart from others in the society. The protagonist is cast aside and bullied for his bedwetting, a physiological characteristic that he actually has very little control over. His value among his peers is diminished by this derogatory name that is ascribed to him or on him by the school bullies led by “the judge”. The judge and his group of bullies constantly castigate Pisskop even going as far as physically abusing him. Apart from this derogatory name, they also call him other derogatory Afrikaans name like ‘rooinek”, which is actually what the Afrikaans used to call the British during the Boer War. The judge states “Why you piss your bed,Rooinek? (Courtney 5). From this, it emerges that the two names given to the protagonist may not be motivated as much by his characteristics but rather by his heritage and culture. The fact that he is British seems to be a major source of his troubles. He is given some derogatory names not just he espouses some unconventional characteristics like bedwetting but more because he is British, a culture that is despised by the Afrikaans. The Judge at one instance yells at him “This is the last time English bastard” (Courtenay 75), clearly showing his hate for the English This is once again proven by the fact that even after the protagonist has been cured of the bedwetting problem by the medicine man sanctioned by his mother, the name persists. He continues being called “Pisskop” even after he has stopped wetting the bed.
The name “Peekay” which is itself quite strange is not the protagonist’s real name and, in fact, throughout the novel, he never reveals his real name. The name “Peekay: is given to the protagonist by a Jewish man named Harry Crowne. He is given this name as a more acceptable version of the name ‘Pisskop” which had now stuck. Therefore, the name Peekay is given to the protagonist simply to make up for the already derogatory name that he had been given. The first name had created an unwanted identity for the main character and degraded his value in the society. It had been created by the people around him, and this almost made him appear helpless when it came to carving out an identity for himself. This is in fact the aspect that frustrates the character the most throughout the novel. “The power of one” or self-independence is something that appears to elude the protagonist throughout the novel. In fact, this is one of the main messages that the author of the novel tries to pass through the multiple names given to the protagonist. Peekay would like to carve out an identity for himself and boost his own value in the society. However, this seems to always elude him as the people around him constantly give him names that are quite demeaning. When Harry Crowne, a Jewish shoe seller, discovers the name given to the protagonist, he gives him the new name “Peekay”, which is derived from his original name Pisskop by taking out the initials P.K. This change of name is supposed mark a new beginning for the main character where he is to adopt a new identity in the society and possibly create a new value for himself in the society. He states “I‘d already thought about what Harry Crown had said and had decided to take his advice and call myself Peekay” (Courtenay 105). He takes it as his own as he even tells his mother “"It's my new name “(Courtenay 253). Although the name helps, it also depicts the construction of a character by the society where Peekay once gain has to depend on an identity created by other people and not by himself. However, the protagonist likes his new name and, in fact, keeps it for a while. This is because unlike the former name “Pisskop” which was out rightly derogatory, the new name is somehow ambiguous, and a majority might think that it is quite harmless.
The other name that the protagonist is given in the novel “The Power of One” is “Tadpole Angel”. Peekay initiates a friendship with a German professor named Karl von Vollensten. Peekay however fondly refers to him as Doc. However, Doc is later arrested for being in the country illegally during the Second World War and is taken to prison. Even in prison, the friendship between Doc and Peekay continues, and he even starts a friendship with Doc’s fellow prisoners. He organizes a tobacco distribution and a letter writing and distribution service among the prisoners and consequently, he becomes quite popular. It is from this premise that he receives the name ‘Tadpole Angel”. The prisoners sing to him stating that “He who is a mighty fighter and fried of the yellow man. the Tadpole Angel, the Tadpole Angel” (Courtenay 381). This name has some relation to the Doc, who the prisoners refer to as Frog because of his tendency to play piano music during the night. This is as shown in the quote where the author writes “the professor is known as Amasele (the frog), because he plays his ‘peeano’ at night when the prison is quiet” (Courtenay 386). Doc acts like a father to Peekay and perhaps this is where the Frog-Tadpole relation comes from. This name depicts Peekay in negative light, unlike the previous names which were all derogatory in nature. In addition, the name is partly derived from his willingness and passion for helping out the prisoner. He creates a positive identity for himself among the prisoners and is extremely valuable to them and this is why he receives this name.
In conclusion, it can be seen that a name is extremely crucial to a person’s identity and value in the society. Sometimes, names are ascribed to people because of the characteristics that they espouse to other members of the society or the value that the character is perceived to have. In the novel ‘The Power of One’, the character receives several names that in one way depict the main character’s identity and value in the society. Through these multiple names, the authors show that the society will always try to construct an individual’s identity and ascribe a name to him or her that this society perceives to be fitting.
Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Delacorte Press, 2005. Print.
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