January 31, 2011

Burroughs the conservative racist

Tarzan, a colonial symbol of bigotry

By Phil ShannonTarzan is a symbol of the white man’s conquest of Africa, set during the heyday of European colonialism, especially British.

“Never once,” writes Fenton, “did Burroughs waver from his conviction that the English were the height of aristocracy.”

John Clayton, the son of Lord and Lady Greystoke who were abandoned by mutineers on the African coast, was raised as Tarzan by an ape-mother. He nonetheless remained the rightful heir of his father’s House of Lords seat.

Despite his loincloth and primitive ape-English, Tarzan bears the “hallmark of aristocratic birth, the natural outcropping of many generations of fine breeding.” Such breeding was forged and tested in the British empire’s wars (“the noblest monument of historic achievement upon a thousand victorious battlefields,” editorialises an enthusiastic Burroughs in one Tarzan story).

Burroughs, born in 1875 in Chicago, was a political conservative and a fanatical opponent of the labour and socialist movements. These sentiments are shared by Fenton, his biographer and admirer-in-chief.

The 540-acre property-owning Burroughs uses one Tarzan story to whine that “to be poor assures one of an easier life than being rich, for the poor have no tax to pay.”
Comment:  We've seen a bit of how Burroughs stereotyped Indians, Africans, and other "primitive" people:

Review of WARLORD OF MARS #1
Barsoom = Indian territory
Stereotypes in A Princess of Mars
Stereotypes in Tarzan of the Apes

I didn't know Burroughs was a conservative, but it doesn't surprise me. It's evident in his stories of white men who dominate savage and barbaric races.

And don't bother saying he was a product of his times. A few years after Burroughs was born, Helen Hunt Jackson wrote her more sensitive play Ramona. Jack London, who was born a year after Burroughs, became a socialist and also wrote more sensitively about Native people.


Anonymous said...

Even the recent Peter Jackson remake of King Kong paints the natives worse than the original (film). It stereotypes the natives with bones in their noses and as cannibalistic, the origninal film doesn't even go that far.

Including the ridiculous fact that a blonde woman is a pauper that arouses a 40 foot gorilla/ape whom decides to keep her as his pet but only devours native brides seems a bit racist to me.

dmarks said...

I wonder how Robert E. Howard would fair under such analysis.

Anon: I think Rob blogged extensively about those King Kong natives.

The ones in the earlier movie were like wild "savage" Africas.

The newer movie made it much worse, I thought, making the natives seen less than human, and savage to the degree of being more like orcs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Burroughs, racist? I never knew...

(There's a meme for everything, no?)

The entire King Kong franchise is full of unfortunate implications. I mean, basically, Kong preys on unconscious white fears of black men being with white women, as demonstrated by Kong (an ape, a common racist symbol for black people) capturing (Read: raping) a blonde Faye Wray.

Robert E. Howard's intro refers to Aryans, and there are descriptions of a "hawk-nosed Shemite [sic]" at several points, so yeah. Although I will say that at least Howard's Conan wore climate-appropriate clothing, something I can't really say about Schwarzenegger.