Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 26 : The Height of Civilization | Summary



It takes another month for Tarzan and Lieutenant D'Arnot to reach the nearest harbor. D'Arnot cables the French government to tell them he's alive, and then contacts his bankers who tell him he will have to wait a month to get his desired funds. Tarzan is the talk of the town throughout their stay. One night "a huge black, crazed by drink" terrorizes the town and ends up at the hotel where Tarzan is staying. The drunk man charges Tarzan with a knife, but Tarzan simply smiles and breaks the man's wrist. Another night Tarzan is dared by a group of white men (who know nothing about his past) to take off his clothes, go into the jungle, and kill a lion with only a knife and a rope. With D'Arnot's approval they set a wager of 10,000 francs—approximately $47,000 in today's dollars—and Tarzan starts for the edge of the settlement.

Tarzan removes his clothing and takes to the trees "with a feeling of exultant freedom." He catches the scene of a lion, ropes it around the neck, hangs it from a tree, and stabs it in the heart. After emitting his signature victory cry, Tarzan briefly considers leaving humanity behind and returning to the jungle and the cabin. Jane Porter's face swims before his eyes, so he slings the lion across his shoulders and walks back to the hotel. All the men, even D'Arnot, are astonished, and Tarzan answers their many questions with laughter. D'Arnot insists Tarzan keep the 10,000 francs for himself, which Tarzan greatly appreciates. He has realized how important money is and how bad it looks when one man accepts it from another.

D'Arnot charters an old boat shortly after the lion escapade. He and Tarzan sail back to the cabin, Tarzan gets the treasure chest from the apes' amphitheater, and they return to civilization. Three weeks later they sail for France. Tarzan wants to go straight to America, but D'Arnot insists they go to Paris, where he arranges for Tarzan to be fingerprinted. D'Arnot shows the fingerprinting officer the fingerprints in John Clayton's journal. The man compares them to Tarzan's fingerprints, despite Tarzan's insistence he isn't John Clayton's child. Realizing something very large is at stake, the fingerprinting officer says he must get the opinion of the department expert, which will take a few weeks. Tarzan is leaving for America tomorrow, so the officer promises to cable the results as soon as he can.


Chapter 26 marks the arrival of a new Tarzan. Thanks to Lieutenant D'Arnot's tutelage, there is no visible trace of the man who was raised by wild apes and was known to slay a wild boar and eat it with bare hands. He wears a white canvas suit—known as a "white duck" garment—just like all the other Western men in town, which makes him seem as genteel and civilized as the next man. This suit, which is symbolic of society's acceptance of Tarzan as a civilized white man, also cloaks the savage past that separates him from all other men. For example, the hunters interpret Tarzan's assumption that lions are always ferocious and to be feared. Because of his upbringing Tarzan genuinely doesn't understand what it means to be afraid. He has been tense, excited, and cautious, but never scared. This is in part because death doesn't scare Tarzan—he knows he will die someday, as does happen with everything else that lives in the jungle, and his death will most likely be caused by a stronger predator. He is accustomed to the thought of death as part of life.

The hunters view death differently. Most of them have probably only seen death through the loss of a loved one or through killing for sport. It is either tragic, as when a spouse or child dies; or so separate from their everyday lives, the death becomes meaningless. That's what happens when they hunt. They don't care about ending a life; they are only concerned with showing off their masculinity, even if it means using powerful weapons and several hunting hands to take down their target. As long as a dead animal lies before them, they are the superior species. That's not the case for Tarzan. He views hunting as necessary for survival; nothing more. He isn't trying to prove his manliness or show he is better than his four-legged opponent; he's just trying to stay alive. The act of living, not killing, is what brings him joy.

Tarzan gets a taste of his old life as he swings through the trees and hunts Numa. Though he "had not realized what a prisoner he had been" for the past few weeks, he suddenly feels free. This is the life Tarzan knows and loves. In the jungle he is free from the "restrictions and conventionalities" of civilized society. He can eat with his hands, walk around naked, and travel wherever and whenever he wants without worrying about money or conventional transportation. He can be himself. But that isn't good enough for Tarzan anymore. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, he has experienced something he can never forget. For Eve it was knowledge, but for Tarzan it is love. Just knowing Jane Porter exists somewhere else in the world is enough to make him dissatisfied with the life he has always known. He consciously gives up his freedom and the only life he knows just for the chance to see her again.

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