Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Two important precursors of the Tarzan stories were the legend of Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf and later founded Rome, and the tale of the boy Mowgli, who is reared by wolves and taught by a bear in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894). Burroughs read the classics as a student, but he rarely read fiction as an adult. He wrote in 1931 that the Roman story had led him to wonder just what kind of person would develop “if the child of a highly civilized, intelligent, and cultured couple were to be raised by a wild beast” with no human interaction. He had often played with this idea.

Kipling published the Mowgli stories nearly twenty years before Burroughs invented Tarzan, and Burroughs noted, “The Mowgli theme is several years older than Mr. Kipling. It is older than books. Doubtless it is older than the first attempts of man to evolve a written language.” Tarzan, Mowgli, and Romulus and Remus all explore the conflict of heredity and environment. Tarzan, especially, also compares the vices of destructive human civilization with the simpler honesty of animals. Burroughs liked to speculate on how heredity, environment, and training affected a child’s mind, morals, and physique, so he spawned a child for whom the civilized environment was stripped away, heredity was strong, and the opportunity for self-training remained.

Throughout the book, Kipling reminds the reader of the heredity factor. When Tarzan...

(The entire section is 457 words.)