An Analysis Of Ch. I ~ Tarzan The Untamed
Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs
I hope I will be excused for submitting an analysis of only the first Chapter of Tarzan The Untamed. It seems to be very significant while justice couldn’t be done to its remarkable content within a full book review.
Tarzan The Untamed is unusual in that it took ERB a little over a year to write. A very long time for him. The book is also one of the longest Tarzan volumes.
The book was begun three months before Armistice Day on November 11, 1918. This was a tremendously busy period for Burroughs as in January of 1919 he severed his lifelong ties with Chicago forever, moving to Los Angeles. The evidence of the first chapter undoubtedly written by him in August of '18 is that this was an especially traumatic period of life for him.
He said he walked out on Emma several times during their marriage. The external evidence of Tarzan The Untamed, Tarzan The Terrible and Tarzan And The Golden Lion is that this period was one of them. At the very least this was a very stormy period for him in his marriage.
The Chapter in question can be divided into three episodes: The killing of Jane and Tarzans discovery of the deed, his reversion to a ‘great white ape’, and the confrontation with the panther. As David Adams has pointed out, whenever a leopard or panther is involved Burroughs is dealing with his sexual problems.
Writing in 1918-19 Burroughs antedates the story to the Fall of 1914 just after the Great War began. He seems to have been particularly aroused by the War. Much to the amazement of his publisher he wanted to become a war correspondent. He was unable to find a place. His writing during this period is replete with references to the War.
It seems possible to relate the death of Jane in the Fall of 1914 to Emma and the Mad King which was written between 9/26 and 11/2 in the Fall of 1914 when the Great War was in progress as reflected in ERB’s story. In the earlier story, "Barney Custer of Beatrice," Barney had performed great services for the Princess Emma, done everything he could do to win her love and trust but she remained distant and distrustful. As the Princess Emma’s attitude reflects that of Emma Burroughs this refusal to trust him must have infuriated ERB who at the time must have felt that he done everything a woman could expect of a man. He, in the character of Waldo in 1913's Cave Girl Part I, actually tells Nadara, who had the same attitude as Princess Emma, that.
ERB's and Emma's relationship must have been strained over the intervening four years perhaps reaching a crisis at this time as ERB appears to have walked out at some time in this period although with the turmoil of moving and resettling it is difficult to tell when.
At any rate the brutal murder of Jane burned beyond all recognition except significantly her jewelry indicates the depth of ERB’s emotions. The jewelry may be especially significant in that ERB lamented that in his impoverished days he had to pawn Emma’s jewelry. That time or those times may have been especially bitter for him.
While it is true that he was persuaded to change the story bringing Jane back to life there seems little possibility for the reader to believe anything but that Jane was actually killed. The implication then is that Emma was dead to ERB. He had always regretted marrying Emma, or marrying at all, even going to the extent of saying that Tarzan should never have married which is to say himself. One wonders why, if he felt so strongly he didn’t seek a divorce at this time.
That is how ERB resolves that sexual problem of his wife. ERB then inserts a long paragraph explaining that now that Jane is dead, Tarzan reverts to his original identity of the ‘great White ape’ or pure beast. It is explained that he never felt comfortable in his thin veneer of civilization. He assumed it merely because it pleased Jane and now that she is dead he no longer has any use for the guise. Hence as he stalks through the jungle in pursuit of the Germans he does so as a stalking beast no different than a lion or tiger. But more intelligent. He may revert to the beast but he doesn’t abandon the intellectual trappings of the veneer of civilization. Still got Daddy’s knife at his side.
Then in the last third of the chapter having resolved his heterosexual problem he turns to another serious aspect of his sexuality, that of his feeling of emasculation. That aroused homosexual feelings in him that he stoutly rejected.
ERB gave voice to this part of his psychology in Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid, or otherwise, The Oakdale Affair of 1917, the previous year. Whether there are indications of homosexual feeling between Bridge and Billy Byrne in "Out There Somewhere" is not clear to me at this time. I would have to read it again with that object in mind but they are probably there. As there are abundant indications of the sexual malaise in his subsequent writings it would seem clear that having solved one sexual problem by having others kill it he then turned to the emasculation problem that he had to deal with by himself alone, killing it.
In all other instances where the leopard or panther symbol appears women are involved except in one instance involving the male ape, Akut, in Beasts of Tarzan. There are definite homosexual overtones in that episode. As Tarzan confronts the male panther in this instance alone the beast must refer to Burroughs own sexual ambivalence. Especially as in this instance ERB combines the Panther motif with the terrific storm and extreme darkness.
The theme of storm and leopard is most dramatically portrayed in Tarzan And The Leopard Men of 1931 that opens with leopard men slashing victims, is followed by a terrific storm and succeeds to the confrontation between Old Timer/ERB and Kali Bwana/Florence.
Tarzan the Invincible of 1930 has the terrific storm as Tarzan and La come close to sexual consummation.
So, in this story almost separate from the rest of the novel, the story opens with the brutal murder of Jane followed by Tarzan’s confrontation with Sheeta in the terrific storm.
In this story we learn that Tarzan has some favorite trees. I can’t think of another instance in the oeuvre where Tarzan returns to a tree. In every other instance he merely selects a new tree for the night. In this instance having discovered the murdered Jane he goes to a tree he has often used. I don’t know what that means sexually. Perhaps if he had walked out on her before this he had some place he favored until reconciled.
Goro plays a prominent role. Unlike Greek mythology with which ERB was familiar where the moon is feminine in Burroughs' mind the moon is masculine.
Thus it is night with the moon shining although a storm is building. Tarzan climbs the giant bole of the tree to find Sheeta sleeping on his mat in the crotch of the great limb. Thus the emasculation lurking in Burroughs’ subconscious haunts his nighttime bed. At this point the storm begins to break with gale force winds. Clouds obscure the moon and it gets dark, very dark, as dark, one might say as the tomb. It is a peculiarity of Burroughs' heroes that they can see or find their way in the dark where you or I couldn’t. This is a very potent subconscious symbol. I’m not yet clear on Burroughs' use of the symbol of darkness.
The Panther in this instance is a male as Burroughs refers to it as ‘he’. Thus in the night in his bed Tarzan comes upon a male sexual symbol. A quote:It was very dark now, darker even than it had ever been before, (see, we’re getting very serious) for almost the entire sky was overcast by thick black clouds.As this is obviously a dream or subconscious sequence we don’t have to take into account improbabilities such as the moon breaking through the thick black clouds so conveniently.
Presently the man-beast paused, his sensitive nostrils dilating as he sniffed the air about him. Then with the swiftness and agility of a cat, he leaped far outward upon a swaying branch, sprang upward through the darkness, caught another, swung himself upon it and then to one still higher. What could so suddenly have transformed this matter-of-fact ascent (matter-of-fact ascent? What does that mean?) of the giant bole to the swift and wary action of his detour among the branches? You or I could have seen nothing- not even the little platform that an instant before had been just above him and which now was immediately below- but as he swung above it we should have heard an ominous growl; and then as the moon was momentarily uncovered , we should have seen both the platform dimly, and a dark mass that lay stretched upon it- A dark mass that presently, as our eyes became accustomed to the lesser darkness, would take the form of Sheeta, the panther.
Security for Tarzan is always being above things so that once his sensitive nostrils pick out Sheeta on his platform by a series of amazing acrobatics among the waving boughs in the rising gale Tarzan finds a secure place on a branch above the platform. He is now in a position to manage Sheeta. Tarzan always deals with Sheeta by descending upon him or leaping on his back.
In Beasts he saves Akut by falling on Sheeta's back as Sheeta descends from a tree on Akut. At the end of Leopard Men he does a standing leap onto Sheeta’s back. In this instance in a driving rain storm amidst lightening and thunder, on a whipping branch in a gale he does a somersault over Sheeta's snout onto his back. These are acrobatics I would like to witness.
Now, in 1913's Cave Girl Part I Waldo killed the panther when it fell onto his upright spear. Spear equals penis as symbol. That pelt was given to Nadara after Waldo had worn it himself for some time. If the pelt is associated with both a homo and hetero sexuality homo in the sense of emasculation then there is a real sexual ambivalence indicated. In the case of Cave Girl Waldo assumed the masculinity of the Panther thus augmenting his own to its former state then having regained his masculinity he was able to invest Nadara with his love.
Jane is dead here so that it appears that Tarzan/Burroughs, still troubled by ambivalence as is also evidenced in 1917's Bridge And The Kid where the Kid is a woman dressed as a man very ambivalently. In that story Bridge/Burroughs is very relieved to discover this boy he has fallen in love with is really a girl. Using his spear, a symbol of the penis, to goad Sheeta to an attack Tarzan retreats in gale force winds to the extremity of a large limb followed by the cat. Had the limb broken one assumes that ERB may have succumbed to his emasculation or latent homosexuality as he plunged back to earth. On earth he has to deal with realities. This is reminiscent of Heracles. Tarzan is a jungle Heracles. Having gotten Sheeta far out on the limb where his footing is insecure, it is at this point in the violence of the storm and wind that he somersaults onto Sheeta’s back.
Sheeta then loses his balance falling from the safety of the trees to earth with Tarzan on his back. Landing splay footed he is smashed to the ground by Tarzan's weight. Unable to rise in time he is stabbed to death by Tarzan using his father's knife.
Thus it would appear that so long as Tarzan is in the trees or his imagination he doesn’t really have to deal with earthly problems. But, once on the earth he has to deal with problems directly. As he has killed Sheeta on the earth one is to assume that he believes he has solved the problem of his sexual ambivalence. However the storm rages for a full twenty-four hours with whatever meaning that may have.
Thus in this traumatic day and night Tarzan/ERB’s heterosexual relationship is ended while we are led to believe he slays his emasculated homosexual ambivalence.
Having killed Sheeta Tarzan gathers an armful of fronds that in no way hinder his climbing the giant bole of the tree.Laying a few of the fronds upon the poles he lay down and covered himself against the rain with the others and despite the wailing of the wind and the crashing of thunder, immediately fell asleep.Good thing the gale didn’t blow the fronds that covered him away. But this is a dream sequence, why would they?
Remember that these scenes of the killing of Jane and ERB's dealing with his senseof emasculation are occurring in the Fall of 1914 at the time he was in fact writing the sequel to The Mad King, Barney Custer.
In that case Maenck was killing Barney's alter ego Leopold while Emma/Emma stood round indecisively pondering whether to accept Barney/ERB in his new role as King. In other words ERB's old loser self was dead while he was permanently assuming his new role as the successful ERB. In Untamed Jane/Emma is killed while Tarzan/ERB slays another troublesome alter ego or sexual problem.
In point of fact Emma Burroughs was quite right to insist that Jane not be killed. Had ERB let the death stand there would have been a gross inconsistency in the oeuvre as he already had Jane playing a prominent role in Jewels of Opar in 1915. Such a glaring inconsistency might have seriously compromised the on going story, actually a roman-a-fleuve, perhaps endangering its continuing success.
The Untamed in the title undoubtedly refers to ERB who is proclaiming his independence from Emma and the bonds of marriage. This theme too was explored in 1913's Cave Girl which was concerned with the issue of marriage and free love.
Waldo in that story insisted upon waiting to consummate the love between he and Nadara until a minister was handy while she was puzzled as to why there was a need to wait when they were obviously meant for each other.
Untamed begun in Chicago would be finished in Los Angeles under very different circumstances than Burroughs' life in the Windy City. As the story finished he would be the proud possessor of his own empire - Tarzana.
Burroughs just keeps getting more and more complex.
Renascent Burroughs -
A Lover’s Question
Became A Man
From ERB's Library
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