Tarzan of the Apes | Study Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Tarzan of the Apes | Chapter 9 : Man and Man | Summary

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Summary

Tarzan continues his studies for the next few years. By 18 he can read and print fluently, though he can't speak English or write in cursive. He also continues his stalking of Sabor and her cousins; they stalk him right back. Out of all the species in the jungle, Tarzan befriends only those in his tribe and Tantor the elephant, who sometimes lets Tarzan ride on his back.

A tribe of black humans settles near the hunting grounds of Tarzan's tribe. They were forced out of their village following a massacre of their own people in revenge for their killing of a white officer and his black soldiers. The tribespeople are hesitant to venture very far from their new village; the jungle is unfamiliar and has dangerous animals living within. One day the king's son, Kulonga, wanders so far into the forest he can't get home before dark. Armed with a shield and poison-tipped arrows, he bunks for the night in the fork of a big tree, just a few miles from Kerchak's tribe. The next morning Kulonga spots Kala, who is hunting by herself. He chases her through the forest. Kulonga's arrow grazes Kala's arm and she screams, calling the rest of her tribe to her aid. Kulonga aims again, this time shooting her straight in the heart. Kala plunges forward on her face "before the astonished members of her tribe," who then chase Kulonga far from the scene of the crime.

Tarzan is in the cabin when he hears Kala's screams. He races to her as quickly as possible, but she is already dead when he arrives. He grieves violently for the only mother he had ever known, and then he learns about the "strange, hairless, black ape with feathers growing upon its head" who killed her. Tarzan tracks Kulonga's trail and soon catches up with him. He's excited to see another man for the first time in his life, and he immediately understands this is the "negro" he has seen in his books, though the dull pictures on the page are nothing like "this sleek and hideous thing of ebony, pulsing with life." Tarzan watches as Kulonga kills and roasts a boar. Tarzan's burning desire to kill is outweighed by his need to learn, and after snacking on the leftover boar, he follows Kulonga for the rest of the day. He's particularly interested in the deadliness of the arrows, which he steals while Kulonga sleeps in a tree.

Kulonga panics when he realizes his weapons are gone. Completely defenseless, he hurries toward home as Tarzan silently stalks him from above, his rope ready to strangle as soon as Kulonga reveals his destination. When Kulonga is just steps away from his village Tarzan loops the noose around Kulonga's neck, hangs him from the tree, and then plunges his knife into Kulonga's heart. Tarzan examines the body of the black man closely, and then he takes Kulonga's knife, its sheath, and an ankle bracelet for himself. He's just about to start eating Kulonga when it occurs to him that men might not eat other men. Suddenly nauseated, he lowers the body to the ground and disappears into the jungle.

Analysis

The native tribe that "breaks the security" of the jungle is fleeing from white Westerners who have come to Africa to harvest and sell the continent's natural resources at a profit. As is revealed later in the book, this particular tribe is from the Congo Free State, which is where John Clayton was supposed to be performing his duties for the British government. Historically, the Congo Free State was claimed and operated by King Leopold II of Belgium under the guise of reversing the damaging effects of slavery. In reality, he authorized the use of military force to coerce native peoples into providing cheap labor for foreign companies doing business in the area. That's why white officers and black soldiers were in the natives' village in the first place: they were ensuring the tribespeople carried out their work as ordered. As often happened during the era of Western colonialism in Africa, the natives' efforts to fight back were met with near-annihilation of their tribe.

Edgar Rice Burroughs's inclusion of this scene is interesting. Though many critics condemn Burroughs for the overt racism throughout Tarzan of the Apes, this scene is sympathetic toward the native peoples whose culture and way of life were eroded by colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With nowhere else to go they are forced into the jungle, which means "consternation and death to many of the wild denizens of their new home." Burroughs feels bad for the jungle animals, yet he also feels bad for the natives who must start their lives over. But there is nothing sympathetic about the way Burroughs's narrator talks about members of the tribe. They are described as having yellow teeth "filed to sharp points," "great protruding lips," bodies covered in tattoos, and an overall "bestial brutishness." These ghastly details are meant to provoke a sense of fear, making the natives unsympathetic characters. Though Burroughs may have viewed black people as inferior to white people, his sympathy for their plight implies a dislike of the policies and practices of Western colonialism in Africa.

Burroughs makes it clear throughout Tarzan of the Apes that white humans, particularly those in the upper classes, are superior to animals and humans of different racial backgrounds. One way he does this is through the motif of cannibalism. A motif is a recurring symbol that supports an idea or theme. In Chapter 9 the narrator mentions how the villagers "gorged themselves on meat" for many days after they killed the white officer and black troops in their village. This is a polite way of saying the villagers ate those they killed. Days later more black soldiers arrive in the village and enact revenge for their lost comrades. "That night the black soldiers of the white man had had meat a-plenty," the narrator notes. Even though they are under Western command, they also eat their opponents, just as Tarzan's ape tribe does. Burroughs is implying that black people are no better than animals. Thus, Tarzan's instinctual revulsion at the thought of eating Kulonga's dead body implies he is more evolved than his black counterparts, who are more animal than human. He is more human than animal, which makes him superior.

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