Planet of the Apes

by Pierre Boulle

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Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Planet of the Apes Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

The values intimated by the plot are those of individual worth, including personal responsibility, objective inquiry, disregard of physical differences, and familial cohesion. The society on Soror from which Ulysse escapes is the same as that of twentieth century Europe and America, with some utopian exceptions. Its members have resolved the problems that culminate in war and racial violence. There are no national divisions. The entire planet is governed by an egalitarian parliament representing the unilingual races of Gorillas, who are the executives and hunters, Orangutans, who are the traditionalist academicians, and Chimpanzees, who are the true intellectuals and enlightened scientists. Criminal activity is contained by effective police forces, and political ambitions are checked by administrative balances and interdependence.

The tripartite society recalls that of Plato’s Politeia. The Gorillas are closely akin to Plato’s powerful epi-kouroi (auxiliaries); the Orangutans are phylakes (guardians) but less noble, because of their reactionary petti-ness, than Plato’s guardians; and the Chimpanzees are, as demiourgoi, superior to Plato’s craftsmen because of their heightened intellectualism.

The reluctance of Soror’s guardians to accept the findings of objective research—especially the discovery that their civilization derived from a preexistent human civilization—is a satirical comment on the obtuseness of twentieth century conservatives in their resistance to what have become ecological certainties and technological truths. At the same time, the ability of the apes to achieve social equality and global tranquillity is a satiric reminder of the human disinclination to do so.

Planet of the Apes forms part of Boulle’s extended commentary on the stubborn incapacity of human beings, collectively, to adjust themselves to their own technological achievements and, in consequence, to one another. Other parts of this commentary include, for example, Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai (1952; The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1954) and Le Jardin de Kanashima (1964; Garden on the Moon, 1965), the first exemplifying Boulle’s use of World War II as a reflection of human fallibility, the second rehearsing the missile race madness that followed World War II.

Within its effective framing device, Boulle’s narrative provides a quickening of pace that contributes to the sense of anxiety that his evidences of civilizational folly induce in his reader. The three parts of the novel comprise thirty-eight chapters. In chapter 29 (chapter 3 of part 3), the past tense yields to the present perfect; and from chapter 32 (chapter 6 of part 3) to the end, the present tense is used as Ulysse describes his hectic escape from Soror and his shocking return to Earth.

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Planet of the Apes Analysis