Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 23 : Brother Men | Summary



Lieutenant D'Arnot wakes in the grassy shelter Tarzan built for Jane Porter the previous day. In great pain, he remembers his near-death experience in Mbonga's village; then he falls asleep again. Tarzan is there when he wakes again. D'Arnot tries to speak to the mysterious man in numerous languages, and Tarzan finally produces a pencil and piece of bark on which they write to each other in English. Tarzan tells D'Arnot who he is and how Terkoz kidnapped Jane. He promises to return D'Arnot "to his people" when he is well again. That takes several days, thanks to a fever "that commonly attacked whites in the jungles of Africa." D'Arnot is as weak as a kitten when the fever breaks. Tarzan nurses him back to health, and D'Arnot asks Tarzan, via the pencil and bark, how he can repay him. Tarzan asks to learn "the language of men." D'Arnot is eager to comply and dives into teaching Tarzan French.

Three days after the fever breaks, Tarzan carries D'Arnot back to the cabin. Both men are shocked to find the harbor and the little house empty. D'Arnot knows his men think him dead, and he fears being left to survive on his own in the wild. He looks around the cabin and notices two letters, both addressed to Tarzan of the Apes. When he turns to give them to Tarzan, Tarzan is gone.

Tarzan is heartbroken that Jane Porter left him, especially "while he was serving one of her people." At once he decides to break ties with humans and return to his ape tribe. He's halfway home before he pauses to think about what D'Arnot would do if Sabor or Bolgani crossed his path. "What are you, Tarzan?" he asks himself. "An ape or a man?" He decides he is a man, which means he must return to protect his kind.

Back in the cabin, a frightened D'Arnot reads the unsealed letter from Cecil Clayton. In it Clayton thanks Tarzan for the use of his cabin as well as for the service of "the strange white man" who saved their lives repeatedly. The five travelers have left Africa for good, and the confirmation that he is alone in the jungle sends D'Arnot into deep despair. His moping is interrupted by the sound of someone at the door. As it opens slowly, D'Arnot grabs his rifle and shoots.


Jane Porter's departure forces Tarzan to reconsider his human identity. He loves Jane, and he doesn't want to remain among reminders of human life if he can't be with her. That means revoking what he has learned about the human side of himself and returning to his ape family, which is not as easy as it sounds. Tarzan now understands he is genetically human. Though he knows how to fit in with the apes and is accustomed to their lifestyle, he can't actually become one. So he can either live as men do and be alone or live like an ape and feel alone, as none of the apes are able to comprehend the intricacies of Tarzan's thoughts and feelings.

Jane opened a tender part of Tarzan he never before knew existed. Tarzan cares about white humans—even those he has never met—as if they were his family. Apes care for no one and serve only their self-interest. Tarzan was once like that himself, but during his time away from the apes he developed a moral conscience. The rage he feels upon learning about Jane's departure hardens him to the fate of Lieutenant D'Arnot, whom Tarzan thinks "could get along as Tarzan had." After he's had time to clear his head, Tarzan realizes D'Arnot would never be able to survive in the jungle. He may have military training but lacks the basic survival skills to last just a few days on his own. Tarzan's newly developed conscience tells him he can't allow D'Arnot to die in the jungle alone. Just as he intuitively knows humans don't eat other humans, he understands it is his duty to protect those who can't protect themselves. These revelations of humanity prevent Tarzan from ever living the life of an ape again. He has to move forward with life as a human, even if it means living without Jane.

It is important to note that Tarzan only feels this sense of duty to white humans. He does not view black humans as equal to him and would not save one if they were in danger. He demonstrated this time and again as he watched black men die at the hands of Mbonga's tribe. Like other characters in the book, Tarzan places a value on people's lives depending on their skin color. He only feels a kinship with Caucasians, which supports the theme of white supremacy that runs throughout the novel.

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