Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Asked by a scientific academy to report on his former life as an ape, Rotpeter responds by saying that his development into a human being during the last five years has erased virtually all memories of his youth in the Gold Coast. In his address to the distinguished gentlemen of the academy, he concentrates instead on his penetration into the human world, where he now feels well established as an accomplished artist in variety shows.
According to his captors, he was shot twice by members of an expedition of the Hagenbeck circus, on the cheek and below the hip. The first wound gave him his name, Rotpeter (“Red Peter”), which he finds distasteful but which differentiates him from a trained ape named Peter that has recently died. He is not at all bashful about showing his second wound to journalists, especially those who claim that he has not completely suppressed his ape nature. In the interest of truth, he believes that he may take down his pants whenever he wishes to reveal his well-groomed fur and the maliciously inflicted wound.
His first memories stem from the time of his captivity in a small cage in the Hagenbeck steamship. Overwhelmed by distress at not having a “way out” for the first time in his life, he was unusually quiet, which was taken as a sign that he either would die soon or could be easily trained. Realizing that he could not live without some kind of way out, he decided to cease being an ape. This solution meant, however, neither escape nor desire for freedom “in all directions,” a quality he perhaps knew as an ape and for which some humans long. Freedom is among the noblest of human self-deceptions, comparable in his mind to the precarious movements of trapeze artists in the variety theaters.
The quiet that the ship’s sailors afforded Rotpeter allowed him to observe them carefully. They moved slowly, often sitting in front of his cage, smoking and watching him in turn. He began to imitate them, first spitting in their faces, then smoking a pipe. It took him weeks...
(The entire section is 830 words.)
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