Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 6 : Jungle Battles | Summary

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Summary

Kerchak's band of apes often hunts and rests near the Claytons' sealed cabin. The apes never venture close to the cabin—the story of the "thunder-stick" is still popular among the tribe—but the building is a constant source of wonder for Tarzan, who spends hours trying to figure out how to get inside. He eventually discovers the secret to the wooden lock and enters his former home.

Tarzan has no idea he once lived in this structure, nor that the skeletons on the floor and the bed are those of his parents. Ape language doesn't have the words necessary to explain what happened in the cabin a decade ago, though Kala once told Tarzan his father was a "strange white ape." As far as Tarzan knows, Kala is his real mother.

Tarzan goes through the Claytons' belongings, pawing through the cupboards and chests. He pricks his finger on a hunting knife, which draws blood, and then he comes across an alphabet picture book. Many of the pictures inside are of "faces similar to his own." Underneath the pictures are letters and words, which he thinks are bugs.

Tarzan puts the book back, grabs the hunting knife, and locks the door behind him. He immediately runs into Bolgani, a huge gorilla from another tribe. Tarzan knows he has no chance of surviving the unavoidable battle, yet "he met the gorilla squarely and bravely without a tremor of a single muscle, or any sign of panic." Still clutching the knife, he strikes at Bolgani with his fists. The knife's blade sinks into Bolgani's skin, and the huge gorilla shrieks. Suddenly understanding the purpose of the knife, Tarzan stabs Bolgani until he's dead. Exhausted, bloody, and beaten, Tarzan collapses next to him.

Tarzan's tribe hears the fight from their position deeper in the jungle. Tublat encourages Kerchak to ignore it, but Kala swings quickly through the trees to find her son. Certain he is dead, she is shocked to find him still—but barely—alive. She brings him back to the tribe and nurses him back to health over the next few weeks.

Analysis

In Tarzan lies the best part of the natural and civilized worlds. Descended from "the best of a race of mighty fighters," he combines his critical thinking skills with "the training of his short lifetime among the fierce brutes of the jungle." He has the smarts, the strength, and the speed to survive in the wild. His biological parents only had the first part of that equation, and Kala and the rest of the apes have the latter parts. John Clayton wouldn't have been able to hold off a raging Bolgani, and Kerchak wouldn't have figured out the purpose of the knife so quickly. Only Tarzan has the logical mind and physical experience to do both.

The formation of Tarzan's self-identity is furthered during his visit to the cabin. For the first time in his life he sees images of "apes" who look just like him, which shows him he isn't completely alone in his appearance. He also notices no one in the alphabet book looks like Kala or Kerchak. This is Tarzan's first inkling that he doesn't just look different from his tribe—he is different. He has a feeling the little "bugs" underneath the pictures hold some sort of meaning, but he can't figure out what that is. That curiosity will bring him back to the cabin again and again, allowing him to finally unlock the secrets of his identity.

The other important thing Tarzan finds in the cabin is the knife. Like all the weapons in Tarzan of the Apes, it is a symbol of power. The laws of nature indicate Tarzan should have died at the hands—and fangs—of Bolgani, who is bigger than stronger than him. Even Tarzan's "judgment told him he was no match for the great thing which confronted him." The knife changes everything—it elevates him from comparatively weak human to vicious warrior, making him the most dangerous creature in the jungle. The knife and objects like it are how early humans conquered nature to create Western civilization, which is paralleled by Tarzan's adoption of tools and weapons on his journey to "civilized" life.

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