Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Source: LibriVox
Length: 9 hr, 20 min
Reader: Mark F. Smith

The book: What would happen if a human baby from parents of the best quality was raised by animals of the most barbaric sort? Would the child reflect the attributes of his biological parents or social environment? The nature versus nurture debate has engaged philosophers, then later scientists, for centuries, but neither Hume nor Locke wrote any treatise half as entertaining as Burroughs' pulp novel. Tarzan's animal upbringing gives him the strength and abilities of the jungle, but his "good breeding" affords him the morality and intelligence to make him a super-man.

Although Tarzan's parents were English and his upbringing African, he can be seen to be a metaphor for the United States, which was at the time just becoming a world power. Like Tarzan, the USA boasted a European heritage that had been tempered by the hardships of the frontier. Led by Teddy Roosevelt, himself a blend of aristocracy and outdoorsman, America had subjugated the savages and taken its seat at the table of the Western powers.

Of course, this version of America's place in the world is very colonialist and Tarzan reflects this prejudice. The depiction of black people, both native and Westernized, is racist. Burroughs seems to imply that black people are at worst cannibals and at best comic sidekicks, depending on the environment where they were raised. This viewpoint provides a dark contrast to Tarzan's triumph of heritage over surroundings. Although modern psychology has shown that our physical nature governs many of our basic behaviors, our human qualities are much more influenced by culture than Burroughs supposes.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: As in several other books I have reviewed, Mark F. Smith does an excellent job with this book. He reads with a moderate cadence that allows for easy understanding. His narration is in a slightly nasal American accent, but performs a few decent accents for the characters' voices. The recording is marred by a background whine. Some people will be able to ignore it, but others will find this noise distracting.

1 comment:

Felbrigg said...

Smith's one of my absolutely fave readers at Librivox. This story is interesting simply because of it's classic "branding", but combine that with Mark's reading and you have a hit.