Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 19 : The Call of the Primitive | Summary

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Summary

The scream that Tarzan, Samuel T. Philander, Cecil Clayton, and Professor Porter hear is Jane Porter's. She is captured by Terkoz, who has been cast out of the tribe for being a "cruel and capricious king." He was originally looking for someone on whom he could take out his rage, but when he saw the "hairless white ape" he remembered that his wives had remained with the tribe. Jane is to be "the first of his new household."

Tarzan races to the site of Jane's scream but only finds Esmeralda, who doesn't interest him. He tracks Jane and her captor through the trees for three miles. Realizing he can't outrun his pursuer, Terkoz drops to the ground ready to fight or, if the situation calls for it, flee. When he sees it is Tarzan, he assumes Jane is Tarzan's woman and rejoices "at this opportunity for double revenge upon his hated enemy."

Jane feels relieved to see Tarzan, whom she knows must be the man her father and Clayton told her about, but she doubts his ability to "vanquish such a mighty antagonist" as Terkoz. Jane watches, "her eyes wide with mingled horror, fascination, fear, and admiration," as Tarzan wrestles the great ape and then stabs him to death. She stretches her arms out to her hero, who takes her in his arms and kisses her. Jane suddenly breaks the kiss, mortified by her actions. Tarzan is confused, and becomes even more so when his attempt to touch her arm is met with a slap on the chest. Instead of bringing Jane back to the cabin as he originally planned, he does "just what his first ancestor would have done" and carries her farther into the forest.

The next morning Clayton hears the boom of a cannon. He runs outside to see the ship that had abandoned them a month before, accompanied by a small French cruiser, both anchored quite a distance from land. He later learns that the Frenchmen found the entire crew of the Arrow days before, and all of them were either dead or dying. King's death left them with no navigator, and they were lost and out of food and water. Some even resorted to eating the dead. When the French climbed aboard, they learned about the five people the crew abandoned on the coast, and had been searching the shoreline for the Porters and their friends ever since.

A small boat comes ashore, and Clayton immediately tells the officer aboard what happened to Jane. The officer has little hope for her survival, but all the French sailors volunteer to help find her. A group of 20 enlisted men and two officers, plus Professor Porter and Clayton, head into the jungle.

Analysis

The tone of Tarzan of the Apes shifts in Chapter 19. Until this point, Edgar Rice Burroughs's prose has been fairly straightforward and literary, aside from a few passages fawning over Tarzan's physique and mental acuity. That changes when Tarzan and Jane Porter finally meet. It is Jane, not Tarzan, who is the center of the narrator's attention during the fight with Terkoz. The description of her "lithe, young form flattened against the trunk of a great tree, her hands pressed against her rising and falling bosom" is quintessential pulp fiction—a form that eventually became known for lurid descriptions of adventure, violence, and sexual longing. Jane is practically panting for Tarzan, which is pretty racy stuff for the early 20th century. It works in the story's context, though. Jane and Tarzan's reactions to one another are primeval (or primitive); this goes back to Burroughs's exploration of how instinct and environment influence one's behavior. The sexual chemistry between Jane and Tarzan is completely instinctual, and it is instinct that pushes Tarzan to abandon his original plan and instead keep Jane for himself. When it comes to his attraction to Jane, he does "what no red-blooded man needs lessons in doing." The narrator doesn't pass judgment on Tarzan's actions. Tarzan and Jane cannot help but fulfill their duties as man and woman. In Tarzan's case, that means protecting his mate; for Jane, that means allowing herself to be protected.

The story of what happened on the Arrow is another good example of the nature of pulp fiction. Readers clamored to the early pulp magazines for their daring stories of adventure and danger, and particularly popular were stories about the high seas. Burroughs taps into that popularity with his digression about the Arrow's misadventures following their departure from Africa. The narrator's vivid descriptions bring to life the gruesome scene that greeted the French sailors: "dead and dying men rolled hither and thither upon the pitching deck"; corpses appearing to "have been partially devoured as though by wolves"; one man even "opened his veins and drank his own blood." They even eat their dead friends. Viscerally descriptive scenes like this one keep readers intrigued and entertained, which provokes audiences to come back for more. The details about what happened on the Arrow don't advance the plot of Tarzan of the Apes, nor do they help the reader get a better understanding of the book's main characters. This scene's primary purpose is to give the readers what they want from a pulp story: sensational descriptions of things rarely seen in everyday life.

This seemingly trivial scene is also important because of its reference to cannibalism. Cannibalism (the eating of a species by someone of the same species) is a motif, or recurring symbol, in Tarzan of the Apes. Taboo in Western culture, acts of cannibalism are often used in literature to show the low status of a race or culture. Tarzan's ape tribe eats apes from different tribes but not its own, as do the African natives in Mbonga's village. This makes them equals. However, the crew of the Arrow is so desperate for food they turn to eating their deceased shipmates. They are therefore more evil and debased than the black villagers and the wild apes, and far below white Westerners who wouldn't dream of eating a fellow human. Desperation has turned them "from human beasts to wild beasts."

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