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Tarzan of the Apes

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Escaping Reality by Timothy Rosenberg An essay in Fiction 307-11000-1 Prepared for Prof. Karen Hall Ithaca College April 20, 2005 The story of Tarzan of the Apes is one that has endured the test of time. Throughout the novel, Edgar Rice Burroughs depicts a jungle society where Tarzan is the king and his subordinates are the natives and animals of the jungle. This hierarchal system appeals to the general public of white, Anglo-Americans who might otherwise have difficulty identifying with an "uncivilized jungle setting." The novel provides adventure and excitement for those seeking an escape from the mundane life of the office or general store. Burroughs was the George Lucas of his day, creating characters as profoundly mythical - and as stereotypically superficial - as Darth Vader. Like Luke Skywalker's saga, the tale of Tarzan mixes and matches motifs from the archetype-haunted dreamtime of humanity with the theories of Carl Jung. The tale of the prince raised in secret by adopted parents (King Arthur, Luke Skywalker) is fused with the story of the feral child raised by animals (Romulus and Remus, Pecos Bill). Stories such as these fall into the genre of escapist, pulp fiction which is essentially simple romantic stories to entertain the masses. ...read more.


The thought of a man of the jungle being entitled to a large inheritance gave hope to the readers of the Tarzan novels. This hope carried over into the romantic choices of mates available to the bourgeois men because although Tarzan could not speak English, he managed to woo a beautiful woman and convince her to be his mate. The audience could empathize with Tarzan; however the subtleties of the audience's affections towards Tarzan are more elusive. Burroughs' Tarzan was loveable and identifiable by white men because Tarzan was a white man. Tarzan allowed scrawny boys to imagine themselves as a powerful ape-man roving through the unknown, unexplored jungles of Africa. However, this fantasy is grossly inaccurate. One popular misconception created by the Tarzan story is that Africa is a land of jungle. The word comes from the Sanskrit "Jungala" meaning "dry, desert," and in English it means the opposite - "thick vegetation and dense forest." Africa actually has less forest per square mile than any other continent. Africans and African-Americans have for centuries been conditioned to feel shame for being "Jungle Bunnies," and although the term is insulting and inaccurate, it still exists and Tarzan helped to put it and keep it there. All of the "Tarzan Untruths" facilitate harmful stereotypes for ethnic groups. ...read more.


In much 19th and early 20th century pulp fiction, American Indians and black Americans have a mystical rapport with animals, which author and audience alike understood arose from their proximity on the evolutionary scale. But Burroughs' Tarzan is closer to the animals than the black Africans who live nearby. The Great White Hope is at once more civilized and more savage than the "natives" - he is the Lone Ranger and Tonto. With Tarzan monopolizing the highest and lowest rungs of the Chain of Being, the "natives" find themselves deprived of the one asset that racist mythology attributed to them, closeness to the animals, leaving them without any particular function in the economy of kitsch literature, except to be rescued by Tarzan from rogue elephants and the occasional witch doctor. "Tarzan provides welcome reassurance of the white man's supremacy over his women and his blacks, a supremacy that is maintained in any circumstance, no matter how dire..." (J. Newsinger; 1986). Tarzan is racist, sexist, and adventurist. Thus, the massive Tarzan media march will thrive in America for exactly as long as racism, sexism, military adventurism and greedy individualism thrive in America. The novel is not an escape from reality at all; it is merely perpetuating the problems of society through passive acceptance of the injustices perpetrated by Tarzan and ultimately, the irrational generalizations perpetrated by Burroughs. 1 ...read more.

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