Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 17 : Burials | Summary



The cabin's newest inhabitants decide to bury the skeletons of its previous owners. Professor Porter and Samuel T. Philander believe the remains of John and Alice Clayton "belonged to a male and female of one of the higher white races," and Cecil Clayton finds a ring around the finger of the male skeleton. He is shocked to discover that it bears "the crest of the house of Greystoke." Jane Porter then finds John Clayton's journal, which has his name inscribed within. Jane and Cecil Clayton immediately realize who once lived in the cabin. They proceed with the burial, pausing only so the two old men can examine the smallest skeleton. They make some sort of discovery, which Mr. Philander wants to share with Cecil Clayton, but Professor Porter tells him to let "the past bury its dead."

Tarzan watches the burials from afar. He can't figure out why he is drawn to the three white men—surely they are "stupid and ridiculous and cowardly"—but he doesn't question his attraction to Jane. He knows "she was created to be protected, and ... he was created to protect her."

The funeral service is interrupted when the mourners notice the ship leaving the harbor. The sailors left food rations but negated on their promise of weapons and ammunition. Professor Porter is particularly upset, as he had hoped they would leave the treasure behind. Jane patiently explains that the treasure is the very reason why the crew staged a mutiny and stranded them in the middle of nowhere. She takes Mr. Philander aside and beseeches him to keep a closer eye on her father.

Tarzan can tell the group is distressed by the departure of the ship and chases it through the trees. Surprisingly, the boat lands just on the other side of the harbor, out of sight of the beach. The sailors haul a big chest onto the sand and then argue for a few moments before agreeing to bury the chest below the tree in which Tarzan sits. Snipes refuses to join the others in digging the hole and yells orders instead, which earns him a pickaxe in the brain. He dies instantly. Their moods improved considerably, the sailors bury Snipes's body on top of the chest, fill the hole, and then sail away.

Tarzan can't believe how savage humans are proving to be. He drops to the ground to see if the sailors left behind anything of use and finds a small shovel. He awkwardly uses it to uncover the chest and Snipes's body, which he reburies. He easily hoists the chest (that four sailors struggled to lift) and carries it for several hours to the site of the Dum-Dum, where he buries it.

Tarzan returns to the cabin and sees it lit from within. He marvels at the sunlight coming from the lamps he had seen in books but never understood, and then he peers in the window. The single room has been turned into two with tree branches and sailcloth. The men are on one side and the women on the other. Tarzan watches Jane Porter write a letter before going to bed. When he's sure she's asleep, he reaches through the window and nabs the sheet of paper off the desk.


The connection between Cecil Clayton and John and Alice Clayton has been discovered, but the treasure-hunting party hasn't yet figured out that Tarzan is their long-lost son. Jane Porter and Cecil assume the bones in the cradle are that of a human baby. Samuel T. Philander and Professor Porter know the truth, but for some reason the professor doesn't want to bother Cecil with the fact that the bones in the cradle belong to an ape, not a human. This doesn't make a lot of sense to the reader now, but it plays a large role in future events.

Tarzan is puzzled by just about everything the other humans do. He doesn't understand why one would want to bury bones, which have nothing edible worth protecting, and he can't figure out how the cabin's lamps produce "sunlight" in the dark of night. Some parts of human culture simply defy logic. Yet he doesn't question his attraction to Jane. Something deep inside tells him that "she was created to be protected, and that he was created to protect her." Edgar Rice Burroughs presents the attraction between strong man and fragile woman as being innately natural. Tarzan likes Jane because she needs him to take care of her, and when they finally meet later, Jane likes him in return because he can provide for her. From Burroughs's point of view, it is a man's duty to take care of a woman. Tarzan is so thoroughly masculine that he can't help but be drawn to Jane's delicate femininity.

Tarzan's feelings about the men are far more complicated. After careful observation of Mr. Philander, Cecil Clayton, and Professor Porter, Tarzan can't help but think men are weak and utterly incapable of taking care of themselves, which makes him question his former sense of pride at being human. He always assumed humans were better than all other animals, but what he has seen so far proves the exact opposite. His opinion grows even worse after watching the sailors bury the chest. Snipes is killed for sport, not food, and his death seems to be a source of joy for the other sailors. Tarzan has never encountered another animal who kills for fun, and the scene makes him realize men are "more cruel than the beasts of the jungle!" He also considers himself lucky to live "in the peace and security of the great forest." This is an example of dramatic irony; the reader knows it is far safer for humans to live in civilized society with other humans rather than with animals in the wilds of the African jungle.

Tarzan is unfamiliar with civilized life and the way other humans think, but he catches on quickly thanks to his capacity for logic and reason. A good example of this is when he watches the sailors bury the treasure chest. He has no idea what's inside the chest; he never sees it open, and though he hears other people discuss it, he doesn't understand English. He can't possibly know how important the chest is to Jane and Professor Porter. It's the sailors' treatment of the chest that tells him it's something special. They bury it, which is what Tarzan does when he has something really special he doesn't want anyone else to have. In his case it's usually an animal carcass, but the principle is the same. He steals the chest and buries it without even knowing its contents simply because he knows it is valuable to the sailors, whom he detests.

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