Study Guide

The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One Introduction

Let's make one thing clear: bullies suck. Nobody deserves to be treated poorly, and nothing can ruin a perfectly good day more than getting picked on. But… sometimes bullies can serve as some great inspiration to beef up at the gym, or at least learn to stand up for yourself. So maybe bullying isn't all that bad after all.

Just kidding. Bullying is always a bad thing, but as Peekay shows us in The Power of One, it can definitely make us stronger individuals in the end.

It's safe to say this is one riveting read—the story features underdogs, several brushes with death, and good old-fashioned revenge. How could you go wrong with that? It's also got a lot to say about racism, injustice, and the power of the individual to overcome obstacles. A captivating plot with socially relevant themes? We can't believe this book was never a selection for Oprah's Book Club.

The Power of One was Bryce Courtenay's first book. It was published in 1989 and quickly became a huge bestseller. It's the story of a boy, Peekay, who decides to become the welterweight boxing champion of the world after suffering at the hands of bullies at boarding school.

After he is branded as the little-guy and seemingly doomed to a life of constant torture by bigger, meaner kids, Peekay has a chance meeting with a boxer on a train ride home from boarding school.

He sees the boxer defeat his opponent, who happens to be a giant in comparison. At this moment, Peekay finds hope: little can defeat big. He'll need to keep the hope alive as he navigates the rest of his childhood and adolescence, too. Between a big world war that personally affects Peekay and his friends; a big state that, by law, imposes the separation of black and white people in South Africa; and some big economic problems, Peekay has a lot to struggle against.

The novel was published in the last years of South Africa's apartheid system, which gave white people more rights than black people and violated the human rights of black citizens. It details the racism of South Africa in the mid-20th century, the precursors to the apartheid system that was getting a lot of international attention in the 80s and 90s.

Peekay stands up for what he believes in, and stands up to apartheid. In the end, little does defeat big in this inspiring novel.

What is The Power of One About and Why Should I Care?

Besides the regular old problems that all kids have to deal with growing up, the protagonist of The Power of One, Peekay, deals with some horrible violence and racism during his childhood in South Africa in the mid-20th century.

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to deal with really-big-deal injustice, like when a whole system is designed unfairly or someone who is in power uses their position to hurt the people around them. And for a kid, it is virtually impossible to really make a difference in those situations.

But Peekay is a trooper. Through a lot of thoughtful observation and reflection, and also through meeting very special people that teach him great lessons, Peekay finds a way to think for himself and to not give in, even when the odds are against him.

Doc, the old music teacher and father figure to Peekay, is an intelligent, cultured person who also struggles with his own demons. Peekay learns from him that no one is perfect, but that perseverance gets results.

Geel Piet, a prisoner at the jail where Peekay trains for boxing, shows Peekay that skin color does not determine someone's value, even if it does determine their fate in a racist system. The tragic loss of Geel Piet gives Peekay his determination to fight his way through life.

In the end, what Peekay is learning is all about "the power of one," which is his name for the force inside of everyone that lets them continue to fight, to be independent. You might find him inspiring; if not, well…you must be pretty tough to impress.

The Power of One Resources


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Bryce Courtenay but Were Afraid to Ask
The author's website.

Where's Peekay?
The welterweight champions of today.

Movie or TV Productions

Super Stars
Morgan Freeman as Geel Piet. Need we say more?

Articles and Interviews

Mad Man
Bryce Courtenay wasn't just a super-popular author; he was also a savvy ad man who had wild ideas for promoting his books.

Goodbye, Facebook Fans
Bryce Courtenay wrote a nice farewell note to his readers before he died.


One for the Road
Bryce Courtenay gave a final interview to say goodbye to his fans.

House Guests
Bryce Courtenay invites his publisher into his home for a mini documentary.

To the Movies!
Watch the trailer for the film version of The Power of One.


Back to the Orphanage
Bryce Courtenay talks about tough childhood memories in this interview.


The author and his wife greet his fans from their garden bench.

Ready to Fight
The cover of the novel.

Battle of Spirits
Peekay and Gideon after their fight in the movie version.