Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 16 : "Most Remarkable" | Summary

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Summary

Professor Porter and Samuel T. Philander are several miles south of the cabin, arguing about the Moors—the name of the former Muslim population in what is now Spain and Portugal. A lion approaches and watches them from just 10 feet away. Professor Porter finally notices the lion and says he has never known one "to be permitted to roam at large from its cage"; he promises to report it to "the adjacent zoological garden." The lion follows the men, who run into the trees where Tarzan watches. Knowing the lion isn't much of a threat unless the men stumble and make themselves easy prey, Tarzan reaches down and hoists Mr. Philander into the tree, and then he does the same for the professor.

The professor chides Mr. Philander for his "paucity of manly courage in the presence of one of the lower orders" and then starts talking about the Moors again. Mr. Philander loses his temper and huffs, "I am tottering on the verge of forgetfulness as to your exalted position in the world of science, and your gray hairs," which causes Professor Porter to drop his academic tone. "Look here, Skinny Philander," he says, "if you are lookin' for a scrap, peel off your coat and come on down on the ground." Mr. Philander is delighted to hear the true voice of his old friend. They make amends and then suddenly realize that someone else is in the tree.

Tarzan gives out a great anthropoid yell to scare away the lion, and the two old men fall to the ground in each other's arms. Surprised to be alive and unhurt, they clamber to their feet. Their arguing starts anew, and they're too busy bickering to realize that Tarzan wants them to follow him. He throws the rope around each of their necks and leads them on an hours-long march back to the cabin before unleashing them and vanishing into the brush. The two men hurry into the cabin, where they, Jane Porter, Esmeralda, and Cecil Clayton speculate about their mutual savior.

Analysis

Chapter 16 provides much-needed comic relief after Tarzan saves Jane Porter from Sabor in Chapter 15. Professor Porter and Samuel T. Philander are meant to be comical characters, but their constant bickering also sheds light on some of Burroughs's hypotheses about the greater world. The ongoing argument about the Moors is a coded argument about race. The Moor race descended from a mixture of Arabian, Spanish, and Amazigh (Berber) peoples and, as such, many had light skin and looked similar to natives of southern Europe. But because the Moors made their home in northern Africa, they were generally stereotyped as having black or tawny skin. When people spoke of Moors in the 11th through 17th centuries, they were almost always referring to black people; those with light skin were called "white Moors." Mr. Philander believes King Ferdinand and Princess Isabella's victory over the Moors in the 15th century was a bad idea. He theorizes the conquests of such a "tolerant, broad-minded, liberal race of agriculturists, artisans, and merchants" impeded social, technological, cultural, and economic progress; in his view, human civilization might be a thousand years more advanced had the Moors been allowed to live in peace. Professor Porter counters that "Moslemism" is a blight on scientific progress. He believes the oppression of the Moors was a good thing, which implies only white, Christian men are capable of the critical thinking needed for scientific advancement.

It's hard to say which character, if either, voices Edgar Rice Burroughs's personal opinions on racial equality. Modern-day readers are more likely to side with Mr. Philander, who sees little harm in allowing people of different religious and racial backgrounds to live and work together. But Tarzan of the Apes was written in 1912. It was much more common back then for white people to believe their race was superior to all others. Considering his portrayal of the native Africans and Esmeralda, one could argue Burroughs held this same position. This argument is strengthened by Professor Porter's academic background. Unlike Mr. Philander, the professor is a true scholar, and his field appears to be related to anthropology, the study of human societies and their development. He is the expert voice in this argument, which may also serve as an indication of Burroughs's real feelings.

Burroughs's portrayal of Professor Porter leaves little question as to his feelings about scholars and academia. The professor may be book-smart, but he has very little common sense. He wanders away into the jungle, which he insists is a zoo, and he is so stubborn that he refuses to see danger when it's literally staring him in the face. One gets the sense he is becoming senile (or losing his mind), yet he's quite lucid when he drops the facade of upper-crust scholar and threatens to punch Mr. Philander just as he did "sixty years ago in the alley back of Porky Evans' barn." His sudden change in personality and diction implies that his public persona, which is that of a wise yet dotty old man, is just for show, and it's a show Burroughs doesn't endorse. Professor Porter isn't the hero in Tarzan of the Apes; that title belongs to the barely educated but jungle-smart Tarzan. Burroughs admires the self-taught man far more than he does the academic.

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