Burroughs probably introduces “raw flesh” in order to justify, to quote Roland Barthes, Tarzan’s “bull-like strength”. In his essay, "Steak and Chips", Barthes examines the steak myth, and comes to the conclusion that steak derives its prestige from its quasi-rawness. In it,
‘…blood is visible, natural, dense, at once compact and sectile. One can well imagine the ambrosia of the Ancients as this kind of heavy substance which dwindles under one’s teeth in such a way as to make one keenly aware at the same time of its original strength and of its aptitude to flow into the very blood of man’.
Applying the same analogy to Tarzan’s meat eating habits, Burroughs no doubt is justified in his portrayal of this “giant figure bearing a dead lion upon its broad shoulders”.
Animals, rather, “savage” animals are of course an inherent part of the African wilderness. Burroughs’ scant knowledge of wildlife is evident in the fact that “Sabor”, the tiger in his magazine story ("Tarzan of the Apes" was first published in a magazine called All-Story) was not native to the African continent. “Sabor” became a lioness when "Tarzan of the Apes" was published in book form. And is it mere coincidence that the animals have names that have an Oriental ring? Kala, Tublat, Kerchak, Horta, Dango, Bara, Numa, Sabor, Sheeta and the like, are definitely if not Oriental, at least ‘un-European’.
In comparison to “his” Apes, Tarzan is the “superior being” because of his “superior intelligence and cunning” and “the divine power of reason”. His cunning ensures that he teaches himself to use the “full-nelson” successfully on every beast. The beast of course is too dumb to think of rolling on its back and crushing the “mighty” Tarzan with its weight. Tarzan can’t be conquered as these “brutes” cannot imagine hunting in groups. Had they done so, Tarzan may have been defeated. But of course, they don’t. It is Tarzan who teaches them to unite; and thus, gives them the means to “overthrow” their “cruel chief” Terkoz. Implicit here is the ideology that ‘white is right’, and just and fair, and hence, should rule. An absolutist vein runs right through all Tarzan novels.
Tarzan can see with his “sensitive and highly trained nostrils”. Olfactory nerves, Burroughs informs us, are merely under-developed in man. It is not to be wondered at then that Burroughs almost forces Tarzan’s son Korak into the African continent in order to develop Korak’s faculties. Tarzan reigns because, “in his veins…flowed the blood of the best of a race of mighty fighters, and back of this was the training of his short life-time among the fierce brutes of the jungle”. This makes him fit to not only rule over “his” apes, but to also colonise the village of Mbonga.
Easthope points out, that "like Heart of Darkness", "Tarzan of the Apes" assumes that white people are in some way inherently superior to black people. He feels that employing the narrative figure of a European ‘gone native’ makes it possible to admit the, ‘exploitative purpose of imperialism while simultaneously recuperating it’. He shows how a structure of imperialist ideology is constructed on the basis of racism and genetics. Thus animals, apes, Africans, and Europeans form a hierarchy according to inherited intelligence, with Europeans at the top.
When Tarzan encounters the “blacks” for the very first time, he finds that, “these people were more wicked than his own apes, and as savage and cruel as Sabor herself”; and towards the end of the novel, during the discussion on finger prints, Burroughs has the officer stating “..some claim that those (fingerprints) of the negro are less complex”. On first coming across Europeans, Tarzan concludes that, “they were evidently no different from black men – no more civilised than the apes – no less cruel than Sabor”. Thus, Tarzan’s superiority is confirmed as he combines two hereditary attributes, i.e. ‘intelligence and an aggression not inhibited by civilization’ (perhaps another reason for the stronger physique).
Consequently, the text vindicates white supremacy as there is darkness at the heart of all men in a continuity stretching back to ‘the earliest beginnings of the world’; so that by nature, Europeans are no better or worse than the Africans. But, their right to assume the role of the coloniser is justified because they (whites – here, Tarzan) are more intelligent, endowed with the “divine power of reason”, and having access to better ideas and technology.
"Tarzan of the Apes", in defiance of anthropology, treats cannibalism as an index of primitivism. While the Africans lick their “hideous lips in anticipation of the feast (of human flesh) to come”, Tarzan can’t bear the idea of consuming human flesh, and his “hereditary instincts” make the prospect nauseating to him.
Though Europeans head the hierarchy, here again Burroughs makes distinctions. The English (Tarzan), French (D’Arnot) and Americans (Jane Porter & Co.) belong to the ‘higher white races’, whereas Italians and Portuguese do not. We realise that it is not just Darwin who dominates. John Stuart Mill also makes his presence felt. Economics matters.
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