In order to achieve all of this, Tarzan uses violence continually. He hunts not just animals, but also murders wantonly. Even when he is in the city, his muscles serve him well. He bashes up a gang of goons in a flat, and then jumps out of the window and escapes the law enforcers that arrive on the scene. Later, on the insistence of his friend D’Arnot, he goes to meet the police to mollify them, and explains to their satisfaction why he chose to dive out of the window. Praising Burrough’s visual melodrama, Vidal says that “he (Burroughs) had a gift very few writers of any kind possess: he can describe action vividly”. Though the action itself is not really all that intriguing, what is important is the ideological underpinning.
Physical violence preoccupies the narrative, and it almost transparently reveals the intention of the text – i.e. to construct ‘a moral universe’. All Tarzan novels endorse and legitimize a certain kind of violence by creating a false consciousness that is essentially absolutist in nature. The actual attack on the village of Mbonga is sub-ordinate compared to the ideology backing it.
As David Bozarth points out, Tarzan of the Apes ends before we are shown that Tarzan of the later books who abandons his wife and family to go on obsessive feral man junkets. Each time he reverts from ‘civilised’ society, Tarzan murders native blacks or incites riots in reclusive societies by defying ‘established’ authorities. During the Great War, he embarks on a personal vendetta against Germans in Africa, becoming a grim methodical executioner.
The body counts in all Tarzan books are excessive – and most are killed by the apeman himself. In World War II, Tarzan slaughters ‘monkey men’ (Japanese soldiers), and Nazis (Dark Horse Comics – "Tarzan the Untamed" and "Tarzan and the Lions of Xuja") in a killing frenzy obviously sparked by wartime sentiments. Violence against the state is castigated. But violence perpetuated by the state is valorised – “duty is duty”, and the nation is supreme. This was one of the tenets constantly evoked by the colonialist to justify the means he used to reach his end.
Tarzan is thus a white adult fantasy, replete with degenerative human behaviours under the guise of popular entertainment. The Tarzan nightmare, declares Mwamba, will keep recurring as long as ‘racism, sexism, military adventurism, and greedy individualism’ thrive!
Dismissing Tarzan as popular fiction, and hence low culture, would be fatuous - it is popular potent fiction !!
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