Significant Connections

Mental Strength is an important aspect of survival

“Pride is holding your head up when everyone around you has theirs bowed. Courage is what makes you do it.” – Bryce Courtenay – The Power of One

Most people believe that the only way to get out of a physically demanding survival situation is with physical strength, this is not the case.  The connection of mental strength, between the four texts, Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick and Motherlove as told by Yolanda Grossman-Fischer, shows how Mental Strength is an important aspect of survival. Through the four texts the characters display mental strength in different ways in order to survive, some examples are unconscious acts of mental strength and some are conscious acts. Whether these acts of mental strength are conscious or unconscious these four books all share one connection, mental strength is an important aspect of survival.

In the novel, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, the main character Peekay learns to survive as he grows up as a white boy in 1930s South Africa. Early in Peekay’s life when he is around seven he is sent to boarding school. Peekay is the youngest child there and also one of the brightest. As a result, he was brutally bullied by the older kids with his main antagonist being an older boy nicknamed the ‘Judge’. Peekay finds a way to survive early by using a method that he dubs camouflage. Peekay learns that if he can’t find a way to hide his superior intelligence he will be bullied by the other kids. Peekay uses his camouflage method to fit in with his peers in a bid to be like them. “The camouflage was intact and I’d moved up into the next evolutionary stage. From knowing how to hide my brains I had now learned to use them. Granpa Chook and I were one step further away from the sea.” This technique shows mental strength because Peekay has to work hard all the time to keep his guard up. Peekay knows that it is vital for him to hide his true personality in order to survive and as a result, he consciously does so. Further on in the book Peekay learns to survive without his camouflage and begins to earn a reputation. “I quickly earned a reputation, rather unjustly, for being clever. Doc had persuaded me to drop my camouflage and not to play dumb.” This teaches the reader that at the right time, disguising your true self is important but there are also times where being you is the best way to survive.  As the book goes on Peekay discovers new ways of surviving these include being consistent and being so far ahead that no one can see his weaknesses. “I learned that the greatest camouflage of all is consistency. If you do something often enough and at the same time, in the same way, you become invisible. One of the shadows.” “While I didn’t think of it as camouflage I now know that it was, that I kept myself protected by being out in front. Too far in front to be an easy mark.” These two survival tactics are displays of mental strength because when Peekay executes them he does so consciously and with purpose. Although the camouflage itself is not based upon mental strength, Peekay’s determination to survive and thrive by doing whatever worked was where he needed his mental strength the most. This teaches us about society because, in the present day so many people are trying to portray something that they are not, this is camouflage. When people wear a certain type of clothes, they generally aren’t wearing what they like but instead what they think everyone else likes in an attempt to fit in.

“To live with nothing in your stomach and a gun in your face, is that living or is that dying a little bit every day?” – Arn Chorn Pond – Never Fall Down

In the text Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick the main character, Arn, has to find a way to survive through the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian killing fields. Although Arn is still a child he uses his immense mental strength to get through the horrors that he faces. One day Arn’s hometown is taken over by soldiers; everyone is marched for miles to out of town to a big camp. From there everyone is separated; Women with women, men with men, children with children. Everyone is marched off to their respective labour camps to serve under the Khmer Rouge. The children in Arn’s camp are put to work, farming for the Khmer Rouge. Arn first uses his mental strength to survive when he thinks of his family: “You must be like ox, they(Khmer Rouge) say, no thoughts, only love for angka. But inside my head, I keep a door, always lock, where I hide my family. Where inside is my aunt, my sisters, my little brother, all waiting.”  Arn uses his mental strength to hide his thoughts from the Khmer Rouge. We can relate to this human nature because it is very common for people to hide their feeling from the outside world for security. However, in this case, Arn’s life depends on hiding his thoughts and feelings. This can be compared to The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay where Peekay also hides his thoughts and feeling in order to survive, he uses a method that he describes as camouflage. Peekay uses his camouflage to blend in with everything else; he knows that if he appears too smart he will be noticed by the other kids and therefore bullied more. “The camouflage was intact and I’d moved up into the next evolutionary stage. From knowing how to hide my brains I had now learned to use them. ”  This example is related to mental strength because Peekay consciously makes the decision to try and hide his intelligence from others in an attempt to survive. Another place where Arn, from Never Fall Down, uses his mental strength to hide his emotions from others takes place when he is forced by the Khmer Rouge to push the bodies of freshly executed children and adults into a mass grave. “I push them in the grave. I do it. One guy, he’s not even dead. … I make my eye blank. You show you care, you die. You show fear, you die. You show nothing, maybe you live.” This shows that even in the toughest situations the body does what is necessary in order to survive.  In this case, Arn has to hide all of his emotions in order to live. This can tell us about human nature. People will hide their true selves, whether it be emotions, personality or intelligence in order to survive in life-threatening and non-life-threatening situations.

In the text Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, Joe displays how his mental strength is an important aspect of his survival. In the section of the text where he is trying to crawl down the mountain after escaping from the void, Joe uses his mental strength to push through the pain. Joe is struggling to keep going as he is hallucinating terribly at this point. Joe keeps himself going by forcing himself to keep moving. ” ‘Place-lift-brace-hop…keep going. Look how far you’ve gone. Just do it, don’t think about it…’ “ In this example of mental strength, Joe uses the work that he has already done as an excuse for himself to keep moving. In a way, he is saying to himself, don’t stop now you’ve already done so much. This teaches the reader about human nature, not thinking, just doing. This can be compared to the brand Nike, their slogan is ‘Just do it’ which is another example of the same thing in society. When Joe listens to himself and ‘Just does it’ he is more likely to survive because he is not thinking about the pain or frustrations that he is undoubtedly facing instead he is focusing only on his end goal, getting to safety. In the real world, this is the same. When you focus only on your one goal and don’t pay attention to any distractions around you, you will achieve higher. the way that Joe keeps moving can be compared to Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. In Never Fall Down when Arn is hallucinating in the jungle after being forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge he tries to escape Cambodia by walking to Thailand. “So tire now … I say to myself, “Just one more step, then you can rest.” Then I trick myself and say, “Okay Arn, now one more” .”  This cross-reference reassures the reader that setting specific goals helps you survive. These two examples teach the reader about human nature. It shows us that the human brain will intentionally try to trick itself during a survival situation where death is extremely likely in order to survive.

In the short story Motherlove, as told by Yolanda Grossman-Fischer, Yolanda tells her true story of how she survived the Holocaust. At the beginning of the Holocaust, Yolanda survives by sleeping in a barn to avoid being found by the Nazis. Yolanda first demonstrates her unconscious mental strength when she dreams of her mother warning her about Nazis coming in a truck to find her. “One night I dreamt of my mother…she warned that the Germans were on their way” “The dream was so real that I awoke. In the distance, I heard a truck approaching…Nazi soldiers searched the barn and surrounding area.” These quotes show how the human mind can sense something without the owner of the mind consciously knowing. Yolanda and her children managed to escape certain death because of her mental strength. This can be compared to Peekay in the novel The Power of One where Peekay has problems with bedwetting and consults the village witch doctor, Inkosi-Inkosikazi. The doctor visits Peekay in his dreams to fix the real world problem. “Tonight Inkosi-Inkosikazi will visit in your dreams and find the way of your night water.” The doctor magic cure worked, this may not be because of magic but really a way of convincing Peekay that he was cured. This is a mental strength because Peekay was only cured once he believed he was cured. Another way in which Yolanda portrays mental strength is when she has to deal with the deaths of her closest family members.  Her father was killed and her 8-year-old boy narrowly avoided death: “Several SS men stormed in…with sustained bursts from their automatic weapons, they mowed down the worshipers.” Yolanda tells how much her survival cost her: “The price of survival is heavy…The physical and mental scars are incurable.” In this example Yolanda does not display her mental strength to survive during the situation but rather to cope with the pain afterward, this we could argue, takes more mental strength. This can be compared to Arn from the book Never Fall Down where Arn has to deal with the loss of his family “I keep my family alive in my mind. But now the Khmer Rouge, they win. They kill the family in my mind.” After this happens to Arn he has to live knowing that his family is with him no more. These quotes show how coping with the aftermath is survival in itself and the amount of mental strength one has when it comes to going through loss or grievances is important in determining the success of their survival. This teaches us about the human nature because often people have a lot harder time remembering their ordeal than actually living it.

In survival situations, it is common for survivalists to repeat a mantra inside of their head to get themselves through the situation.  People repeat important phrases to remind themselves of their purpose, survival. In the text Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick Arn’s life is changed forever after the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge march the entire population into the countryside, As Arn moves from a field slave to a child soldier, he lives by the simple credo: “Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.” This example is an aspect of mental strength because it is a way of using the mind to control the body with purpose. This technique of re-affirming something in your mind helps you control your body to do the things you want. Another time that Arn uses this mental technique is when he is hallucinating in the Jungle after being forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge. He tries to escape Cambodia by walking to Thailand. Arn starts telling himself that he will see his family again if he manages to survive. “I talk to them; I say each name. And I say, “I Will see you again, I will see you again.” Over and over I say this like a chant. And my family, then, all voices join in… the whole jungle is chanting, “see you again, see you again.”  Even though this is in a way untrue and Arn won’t see his family again, Arn manages to survive because he convinces himself that it is real and it gives him hope. This relates to the real world because if you give yourself false confidence it can be as effective as real confidence as it gives you hope. This mental strength technique is also used by Peekay in the book The Power of One. Throughout the entire book, similar to Arn in Never Fall Down, Peekay lives by a personal mantra: “first with the head, then with the heart”  Peekay first learns this mantra from Hoppie Groenewald after watching him box. Wiry Hoppie is fighting an enormous ogre of a man, Peekay first learns from this fight that small can beat big (he had been bullied by bigger kids for over a year by this stage) and this inspires him to start boxing, he wants to be able to beat the bigger kids. Peekay holds onto this little rhyme forever and repeats it to himself whenever he needs to survive. The connection between these two texts shows the reader that this is a common theme among survivalists. It also gives us an insight into human nature and the way our minds respond to stressful and survival situations. When we go through a survival situation, our mind goes back to primitive instincts and chooses to either fight or flight. In both of these examples, the fight option was chosen. In Peekay’s situation, whenever this mental technique was used, it was used to give him the confidence to fight whatever he had to survive. Whereas, in Arn’s situation, he used this technique to make sure that he never gave up, to never stop fighting, to survive.

Throughout the four texts: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick and Motherlove as told by Yolanda Grossman-Fischer we have learned about the human will to survive and the strength of the human mind to follow through with a will. The four texts share a connection of showing the reader the different ways in which the mind responds to different situations and how mental strength is used to survive. From this essay, we can take away what we have learned about human nature and the minds will to do anything to survive.


  1. James, there are some sound conclusions made here, however you will need to work efficiently to get this essay finished in the final lessons. Make sure that you do fully explain what causes people to react/make certain decisions – the depth of your final judgments here will determine the strength of your argument overall.
    * Please speak with me if you have any questions.


    1. would you be able to look at my essay again please because I could not update my full essay due to issues with the blog?
      – thanks, James


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