Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 2 : The Savage Home | Summary

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Summary

The next morning the crew of the Fuwalda takes over the ship. John Clayton watches nonchalantly from the sidelines as the captain and his officers are brutally murdered, panicking only when he thinks about the sailors finding Alice Clayton alone in their room. He turns to find her at his side just before one of the crew members raises his axe to kill them. Black Michael, the new captain of the ship, rescues them and promises they will remain safe under his watch.

The Fuwalda lands at a deserted shore six days after the mutiny. Black Michael tells the Claytons they will disembark with all their belongings and stay there for a few months until the crew has time to "scatter a bit" farther up the coast. Then he'll notify the British government of the Claytons' whereabouts so they can be rescued. Lord Greystoke doesn't like this idea at all, but his protests only anger Black Michael, so he is forced to go along with the plan. All of their belongings, including their revolvers, are brought to shore, as well as a supply of food, tools, and cooking utensils.

Alice breaks down when the Fuwalda sails out of sight. John says they must work hard so they don't have any time left to think; "for in that direction lies madness." Alice worries about their unborn child, and again John consoles her, this time with assurances they are better off than their primitive ancestors who lived in this very jungle. "I wish that I might be a man with a man's philosophy, but I am but a woman," Alice says before promising she'll try to "be a brave primeval woman, a fit mate for the primeval man."

John uses the rope and sails left by the crew of the Fuwalda, as well as a grove of trees, to build a shelter high above the ground. Safely ensconced in it by dusk, Alice sees a figure in the distance, which she calls "some huge and grotesque mockery of man." John calms his young wife. Their fitful sleep is interrupted by "the night noises of a great jungle," "piercing screams," and "the stealthy moving of great bodies beneath them."

Analysis

Mutiny is a revolt against authority, usually involving sailors rebelling against their officers. In the 19th century this usually meant mass murders of the ship's officers and their loyal crew members. In the British navy, mutineers were punished with public canings, floggings, and in extreme cases, executions. The Fuwalda isn't part of the British navy—it's a trade ship—but it does carry English cargo, namely the Claytons. That means its crew is subject to British inquiry should anything out of the ordinary—such as a mutiny—happen on the ship. Mutiny is a punishable offense, and the sailors aboard the Fuwalda don't want to get on the wrong side of the Brits. They can only guarantee their own safety if there aren't any witnesses to the mutiny, which is why they want to kill the Claytons.

That creates a problem for Black Michael. He doesn't want to be tried or punished for his role in the mutiny, but he also can't allow his fellow sailors to kill the man who saved his life. He compromises by leaving the Claytons alive but ensuring no one finds them for a very long time. Protecting their lives is an act of obligation, not mercy, but it shows the level of Black Michael's integrity. He keeps his word that the Claytons will not come to harm in his care. He is never shown doing bodily harm to others—the most gruesome murder, that of Captain Billings, is carried out by "a burly negro"—and though he says he knows it would be in his best interest to kill the Claytons, his actions prove otherwise. On a scale of pure evil to the perfection that is John Clayton, Black Michael is somewhere in the middle; he's a thoughtful criminal who repays his debts.

Black Michael's less-than-noble status and rough-hewn exterior makes him "less than" John Clayton in the eyes of the narrator. Lady Alice Clayton gets the same treatment, but for different reasons. Her major flaw is not her class rank (which is just as noble as her husband's) nor her appearance, it is her femininity. From the narrator's point of view, being a woman makes Alice emotionally and physically weaker than her husband. Though she remains composed on the Fuwalda, "her overwrought nerves" give way once she is on land. She is not brave and strong like her husband who consoles her with logic. Her reply—"I wish that I might be a man with a man's philosophy"—illustrates the narrator's (and perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs's) attitude about the differences between the sexes. The men are rational and logical, while the women are ruled by their hearts, not their heads. This relegates the women to serving as damsels in distress; the men are tasked with rescuing them. Throughout Tarzan and the Apes women are the weaker sex in need of constant emotional and physical protection.
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