The characters in Tarzan of the Apes are largely stereotypes of the elements found in any adventure story—action hero, villains, romantic heroine, romantic opposition, and comic distractions.
Tarzan, of course, is the principal action hero. He is much stronger than most men and more highly skilled as a fighter. These traits come naturally to one who grows up in a world in which survival requires him to make up for the differences between his body and those of the animals around him. He also exhibits great intelligence, inquisitiveness, and moral rectitude, and he uses these traits to overcome his physical inferiority among the jungle animals.
Villainy is well-distributed, providing an ever-changing set of challenges to his growing abilities. The child Tarzan has the apes Kerchak and Tublat to harry and torment him and his adoptive mother Kala. The adolescent Tarzan has the bully Terkoz to worry about. The newly independent Tarzan has to combat the natives who kill Kala and later torture d’Arnot. After being introduced to civilization, he has Canler to counter. Subsequent novels continue to provide him with scores of varied villains with which to contend.
There are two heroines, the ape Kala, who adopts Tarzan and protects him through the early years when he is puny and retarded relative to all the surrounding youngsters, and Jane, the romantic heroine for the last half of Tarzan of the Apes and the rest of the many Tarzan novels. William Clayton provides the honorable romantic opposition, while Professor Porter and Jane’s servant are the comic distractions.