Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 11 : "King of the Apes" | Summary



One day while at the cabin, Tarzan finds a small metal box fitted with a key in the lock. He manages to open the box and discovers a "faded photograph of a smooth faced young man," a golden, diamond-encrusted locket, some letters, and a small book. He puts the chain of the locket around his neck and examines everything else. He can't read the letters, which are written in cursive, and while the little "bugs" in the book are familiar to him, they're in an order that doesn't make any sense. Not even the dictionary helps. He puts everything back in the box and then goes to the village to get more arrows. He used the ones he had, practicing with the bow he took from Kulonga.

As he spies on the villagers, a party of hunters returns with "a struggling animal." It is a man. The women and children throw stones and sticks at him, which surprises Tarzan. While the villagers are busy, he jumps to the ground and picks up all the arrows. The "devil of capriciousness" enters him, and he sneaks into Kulonga's hut and grabs a human skull. After nearly being spotted by a woman searching for a cooking pot, he kicks over the cauldron of poison and flees to the trees. He chucks the skull into a group of warriors below, causing everyone in the village to panic and run to their huts. Later the villagers decide they had "offended some great god" who ruled this part of the jungle. They begin leaving a daily offering of food below the tree where they usually pile the arrows.

Tarzan spots Sabor on his way home. He shoots several arrows at her and finishes the job with his knife. He roars "the awful challenge of the victorious bull ape," then sets about eating his kill. He skins her and then returns to his tribe to boast. "Tarzan is mightiest amongst you for Tarzan is no ape," he proclaims, realizing there is no ape word for "man." Kerchak goes berserk at Tarzan's boasting. He kills and maims many members of his tribe, and then he goes after Tarzan. Tarzan rushes to meet Kerchak's attack and stabs him below the heart. The two wild creatures struggle until Kerchak dies from his mortal wound. Tarzan is now King of the Apes.


The little that Tarzan knows about human life is from the books the Claytons brought from England. These children's books depict "normal" Western life, so Tarzan is completely surprised by everything about the village. He was expecting Western houses, not thatched huts, and people wearing traditional Western clothing, not loincloths and layers of jewelry. Perhaps most surprising to him is the way the villagers treat their captive. In Tarzan's experience only leopards torture their prey; even his fellow apes make sure the death of their opponents is swift. This leads Tarzan to conclude the villagers are more wicked than the apes and as savage as any jungle beast. He already held the villagers in low esteem because of their association with Kala's death, but now he thinks even less of them.

The reader is meant to think less of the villagers, too. They practice ritualistic cannibalism, which means the death of their victim is ceremonial in nature and follows the same steps each time. This could be an offering to appease a spirit or an act to transfer the physical, spiritual, and mental qualities of the victim to the people who eat him. It could also simply be that the villagers were hungry and went hunting for a victim. All these scenarios place the villagers' morality below the rest of the creatures in the jungle. The apes eat other animals (such as boars and lions), but they also eat apes that aren't members of their own tribe. They don't kill other apes for the purpose of eating them—they usually kill in self-defense or anger—but they also don't let good meat go to waste. That separates them from Mbonga's tribe, which kills humans to eat them. They don't kill members of their own tribe but they kill people of their own race, and from Tarzan's perspective race and tribe are one and the same. Tarzan's determination that eating human flesh is wrong is meant to raise the reader's opinion of Tarzan, while casting the black villagers as villains who are even more debased than their animal neighbors.

Chapter 11 is the peak of Tarzan's existence with the apes. He has proven himself to be the mightiest warrior in the tribe, slaying both Sabor and Kerchak within the span of a day. But boasting about his superiority makes him realize it is his humanity, not his strength or speed, that makes him better than everyone else. He can't explain it to the apes because they don't have a word for "man"; they don't even know other people such as Tarzan exist, and the concept of man is way beyond their comprehension. While the apes admire and honor his achievements, he is feeling the first pangs of longing to find others like himself.

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