Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 21 : The Village of Torture | Summary



The French sailors, Cecil Clayton, and Professor Porter search the jungle for Jane Porter when six black warriors swarm French Lieutenant D'Arnot, who is leading the search party. He cries out to warn the rest of the group. His soldiers run to his aid, and fire their weapons at the stream of arrows hurtling toward them from the tangled jungle walls before plowing through the vegetation to fight Mbonga's warriors face to face. When the natives retreat, four Frenchmen are dead, 12 are injured, and Lieutenant D'Arnot is missing.

D'Arnot is hustled to the village by his captors and endures "the most terrifying experience which man can encounter upon earth—the reception of a white prisoner into a village of African cannibals." They rip off his clothes and beat, claw, taunt, and spit on him. He is "bound securely to the great post from which no live man had ever been released," and the cooking ceremony commences. D'Arnot feels as if he is dreaming, but he realizes he's fully awake when the villagers begin pricking him with their spears.

Tarzan bolts into the forest upon hearing the gunshots. He passes the brawl between the natives and the Frenchmen and goes directly to the village, where he knows what awaits the tribes' prisoners. He has seen the deadly ceremony many times before, but this time it's different: "white men, men of Tarzan's own race," might be the victims. He arrives as the warriors prick D'Arnot's still-live body. Letting out "the awful challenge of the ape-man," he hides in the trees and unfurls his lasso, roping it around the large black man standing directly in front of D'Arnot. A strong tug yanks the man upward into the trees, and the rest of the villagers race for the gate. Tarzan frees D'Arnot from the stake and then lifts the nearly unconscious man into his arms and heads for the trees.


The battle between the French sailors and Mbonga's warriors is representative of the ongoing discord between European armed forces and native African tribes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the 16th century through the mid-19th century, the few Europeans who lived in Africa were either Christian missionaries trying to convert the so-called heathens of the Dark Continent, or do-gooders attempting to stop the slave trade. That changed in the 1880s when Europeans discovered that Africa held abundant natural resources. Many European nations, including France, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, and Great Britain, claimed African land for themselves with little thought for the fate of the people who lived there. Tribes with warriors numbering in the hundreds couldn't deter the small yet heavily armed Western soldiers, and the native peoples lost control of their territories for European profit. In Tarzan of the Apes the warriors in Mbonga's tribe use poison-tipped arrows as their primary weapons. They work well for hunting and killing dangerous animals, but they're no match for the repeating rifles the French sailors carry. The French are outnumbered, but the Africans are outgunned. They retreat first because they know their "queer" knives and arrows can't compete with the faster and deadlier weapons of the white man.

Mbonga's tribe has good reason for considering white men their mortal enemies. Before they moved to Tarzan's territory they lived in the Congo Free State, which was "owned" by King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold II forced the native tribespeople in his part of Africa to abandon their agricultural way of life to collect the tree sap needed to make rubber, which was then made and sold by Western companies that paid taxes and a monetary tribute to Leopold II in exchange for using his territory. Tribes such as Mbonga's didn't want to work for the Westerners, but they had no choice; individuals who refused to take part often had their limbs amputated as retribution. This is why Mbonga's people killed a white officer and his black soldiers before leaving their old village, and it's why they are so eager to torture Lieutenant D'Arnot. He is a white man; he should suffer as payback for the black people's suffering.

Tarzan has seen Mbonga's tribe perform this killing ritual many times before, but this is the first time he has stepped in to stop it. It's also the first time he has seen a white man tied to the stake. Tarzan knows the black Africans that Mbonga's tribe has killed in the past are all human, but he feels no connection or sense of kinship with them. He sees no reason to save the life of a black person, but when there's a chance a white person is in peril, he immediately jumps to the rescue. Even though he was raised in the jungle, Tarzan's instincts tell him white skin is better than black skin, which makes it worth saving. This an incredibly racist point of view, but it's a point Edgar Rice Burroughs makes again and again. In the social order of humans, civilized white people are at the very top.

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