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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Books: Tarzan of the Apes

I've just finished reading Tarzan of the Apes, and for a naive, racist, misogynistic tome very much created by the age of the British Empire it is surprisingly touching and deep.

The story is now such a wonderful cliche: the child of an English nobleman brought up ignorant of his origin by a tribe of Apes rises above his savage upbringing to become a fine gentleman.

The main complaint I have about this book is its stereotypical view of the world from a very white middle class perspective of the day. All of the white characters are very noble and Honourable, unless they are sailors in which case they are ruffians, thugs and mutineers.  There is only 1 black character with any depth who is, unsurprisingly, a servant, and is prone to hysterical fainting. Most of The Blacks are natives of the African Jungle and are portrayed as primitive, superstitious, stupid, cannibalistic savages. Tarzan himself is a clean-limbed, tanned Adonis of a man, referred to often as a forest god.  For all of the above I should hate this book.

However, watching the white ape struggle to fit with the apes he believed were his people and then struggle to master the social etiquette of modern society made Tarzan a much more empathetic figure than I would have expected. Maybe its my new found appreciation for what it is to be different in a society that expects conformity but i found myself warming to him and understanding the bittersweet finale that gave him the opportunity to escape the gilded cage he found himself drawn towards.

Taken as a book of its time and accepting its rather un-PC nature I'd recommend it to someone looking for something a little different from standard fare, but i would probably direct them to Kipling first.

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