Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. (1912, 2010). Tarzan of the Apes. Oxford University Press; Toronto.

This is a fun read to start off what is predicted to be a balmy and beautiful summer season. It will, however, make you feel ashamed of civilization and yearn for the uninhibited jungle life. Or maybe that’s just my particular take on this piece of literature?

Tarzan, man of the jungle, on my brightly-colored futon.
Tarzan, man of the jungle, on my brightly-colored futon.

I enjoyed the character of Tarzan, as we follow his growth and life after the untimely death of his parents – John and Alice Clayton (aka. Lord and Lady Greystoke). Tarzan is raised by the ape Kala, and enjoys a relatively carefree childhood. As he ages, however, he feels increasingly disconnected from the apes with whom he lives. His cognitive abilities develop quickly when he discovers his parent’s now-empty cabin and begins to read the books they brought on their original journey.

I looked at this book with an eye to interpreting civilized versus the so-called uncivilized approaches to life. Tarzan is portrayed as strong, agile, and adept in his situation as a wild man living in the jungle. Coming back to civilization to pursue Jane Porter and his desire for the finer way of life results in a containment and muzzling of his natural hunting and fighting abilities.

Tarzan, unlike the more civilized men, would also only hunt for food and to establish his dominance in the chain of command in the ape tribes. A civilized man would hunt more often for pleasure. In the jungle, Jane and Tarzan find a deep and visceral connection; upon their return to civilization, Jane spurs Tarzan’s affections in favor of raising her personal status and self-importance. The entire book questions our true natures as humans, and bemoans the approach of civilization, as outlined in this fantastic review of the book by Jason Haslam:

“Written at roughly the same moment when Baden-Powell was forming the Boy Scouts, the American government was setting aside lands for national parks, and the Audubon Society was created, the novel refracts a national longing for an unspoiled nature, one that will, nearly mystically perhaps, save the nation from the corruption and decadence of a newly urban lifestyle.”

I would encourage you to read this book during the summer, while sitting outside and mulling over our tenacity as humans to hide indoors during the intoxicating and quixotic days of warm summer weather.

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