The issue of whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs put forward racist ideas and subtext in Tarzan and his other novels, including the Barsoom novels, is something that comes up from time to time and is worthy of some discussion and analysis. Here is an article from The Independent in 2009 that attempts to address the issue:
Moi Tarzan, toi Jane. If you visit the Eiffel Tower this summer, study the steelwork carefully, because you might see, or imagine you see, a familiar figure leaping from strut to strut. Tarzan of the Apes has taken up residence in the Musée du Quai Branly, the museum near the base of the Eiffel Tower, which is dedicated to non-Western – or, as some people insist, “primitive” – forms of art.
Paris may seem an unusual place to find the most learned exhibition about Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystoke, ever assembled. He was, after all, an English aristocrat and orphan fostered by socially responsible apes in the African jungle. He was the literary creation of an American writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, who never bothered to visit Africa (and was so little steeped in African studies that his ape man wrestled tigers as well as lions). The museum has decided to de-construct the Tarzan myth as part of its mission to explore how popular Western culture understands, or misunderstands, non-Western cultures. Is Tarzan a sexist and a racist who subjugates Jane and treats black men like children? Is he a macho colonialist in a leopard-skin loincloth, rather than a pith helmet? Or was he the first ecological super-hero: a man in recyclable, locally-sourced clothes who fought to protect his pristine jungle from greedy commercial interests?
According to the curator of the exhibition, the celebrated French sociologist and anthropologist Roger Boulay, it depends which Tarzan of the Apes you are talking about. “There is a big difference between the original Tarzan of the Burroughs novels and the culturally impoverished Tarzan of Hollywood movies, starting with silent movies,” he told The Independent. “The Burroughs character is complex and eventually speaks 12 languages. The movie character is often a caricature who speaks only in grunts.”