Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 18 : The Jungle Toll | Summary

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Summary

Tarzan reads Jane Porter's letter the next morning. Dated February 3, 1909, it's addressed to someone named Hazel and recounts the journey from Europe to Africa. Professor Porter originally told Jane he needed to go to the Congo Valley to investigate "some wondrous theory of an unthinkably ancient civilization," but in truth he was trying to find the buried treasure mentioned in a 16th-century letter he purchased in a bookshop in Baltimore, Maryland. He paid $1,000 for the letter and the map (the modern equivalent of about $26,000) and then borrowed $10,000 (the modern equivalent of about $260,000) from Robert Canler, a man Jane hates.

To everyone's surprise, they found the treasure chest exactly where the map said it would be. It was filled with gold coins. But the "horrid thing seems to bring nothing but murder and misfortune to those who have do with it." As happened in the 16th century, the ship's crew mutinied and killed all the officers. They also wanted to kill the Porters and their friends, but a man named King wouldn't let them. The group of five was instead marooned on "a lonely spot where they found a good harbor."

Jane then writes about Cecil Clayton and how he has fallen in love with her. He is wealthy and will one day inherit the title of Lord Greystoke from his father. This distresses Jane, who wishes he "were only a plain American gentleman." Jane then tells about the "wonderful creature" who rescued her and Esmeralda from the lioness. She assumes that man, whom Clayton describes as "a perfectly god-like white man tanned to a dusky brown," is someone other than the man who wrote a letter and signed it "Tarzan of the Apes."

Tarzan finishes reading the letter and then writes at the bottom "I am Tarzan of the Apes." He returns it the next morning, and Jane gets a chill down her spine when she realizes he must have been watching her write it. Tarzan begins leaving food at the cabin door every day. It brings him great pleasure to labor "for the welfare and protection of the beautiful white girl."

It takes Tarzan a month to gather the courage to go to the cabin during daylight so he can "talk with these people through the medium of the little bugs," but when he finally does, no one is there. He passes the time by writing a letter to Jane, declaring his love for her. He finishes and hears an ape passing through the jungle followed by "the agonized scream of a woman." He runs into the forest. Clayton, Samuel T. Philander, and Professor Porter hear the scream as well and start their own search party. They stumble upon Esmeralda, who is unconscious. They manage to rouse her, and she hysterically tells them about a "great big giant all covered with hair" who took Jane away. The men assume the creature is a gorilla, and they renew their search for Jane. They return to the cabin by at nightfall, and Professor Porter says he will go again the next morning and not return without her. Everyone in the room understands "what the last words meant—Professor Porter would never return from the jungle." Clayton vows to go with him. The professor realizes Clayton is in love with Jane. He acquiesces, and they go to sleep.

Analysis

The story of the Porters' adventures on their way to Africa parallel the events that brought John and Alice Clayton to the deserted beach 21 years before. Both groups were bystanders to a mutiny, both were nearly killed by the murderous sailors only to be saved at the last moment by a sailor who didn't seem as bad as the others, and both were stranded on the west coast of Africa with little hope of rescue. Why so many similarities? It's possible Edgar Rice Burroughs couldn't be bothered to come up with another scenario that would bring a group of upper-class white people to the uninhabited outer edges of Africa, but it's more likely he did this to make a point. Although the initial parts of their experiences are congruent, the outcomes are very different. When John and Alice Clayton build their house, they are the only humans in the surrounding area. That's not the case when the Porters, Cecil Clayton, Samuel T. Philander, and Esmeralda arrive in the same spot 21 years later. Now there are humans in the vicinity, and one of those humans is Tarzan. Tarzan is the reason the Porters and their friends survive long enough to be rescued. It is the combination of his intelligence (which comes from his good breeding, according to the narrator) and his experience of growing up as a wild animal that prevents history from repeating itself. Nature and nurture work together to create a new type of man who can handle the challenges of an untamed world.

Tarzan is drawn to the Porters and their companions out of a sense of duty to his fellow white man. Because he is too shy to speak to them, he doesn't really know anything about him until he steals Jane Porter's letter. Remember: even though has overheard them speaking, he doesn't understand English. Though he is able to read the words in the letter, he's unfamiliar with their meanings in the context of what Jane is writing about. For example, Jane writes about the treasure her father came to Africa to find. Tarzan doesn't connect the words "buried treasure" with the enormous chest he saw the crew of the Arrow burying just hours before. Tarzan doesn't know that treasure is traditionally hidden in a deep hole and then covered with dirt. Likewise, he doesn't grasp what Jane means when she talks about Robert Canler. Jane is obviously upset about something with regard to Canler, but he has no clue Canler intends to use his leverage over Professor Porter to force Jane to marry him.

That's okay. Burroughs's inclusion of the letter Jane will never send is for the benefit of the reader, not Tarzan. The letter allows Burroughs to provide a lot of information about the new characters' backstories quickly and efficiently. There are no confusing flashbacks or stilted conversations between characters, rehashing things they already know. In just a few pages the reader understands why the Porters came to Africa, the extent of Professor Porter's questionable judgment, Jane Porter's feelings about Cecil Clayton, and what awaits Jane if she and her father return home without the treasure. The stakes of their journey are much higher than the reader is initially led to believe. Even if they do get out of Africa, Jane faces a life married to a man she hates. This revelation amplifies the tension between Jane and Cecil Clayton, who is also vying for her hand in marriage, and it helps the reader later understand why Jane considers staying in the jungle forever.

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