Literature · Short Stories

The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James (Short Story Analysis)


The Beast in the Jungle follows a man named John Marcher, who is
obsessed with some unknown catastrophe that he thinks will happen
in his life. He refers to the upcoming event as ‘the beast in the jungle’
Well there is a “beast” and by the end Marcher will learn
what it is.”

The main characters in the story are John Marcher and May Bartram. The two become closely tied as she is the only one that knows about Marcher’s obsession with the impending “catastrophe”. May also agrees to watch for it with him.

So what does the ‘beast in the jungle’ turn out to be? It is Marcher’s inability to love his dear friend May: “The escape would have been to lover her; then then he would have lived. She had lived – who could say now with what passion? – since she had loved him for himself; whereas he had never thought of her (ah how it hugely glared at him!)”

Yes indeed, May Bartram had loved him until her death and it went unrequited. John’s obsession basically destroyed him and kept him from seeing the truth. His life is summed up with this quote from the story: “he had been the man of his time, the man, to whom nothing on earth would have happened.”

Now, it’s easy to view John Marcher as an idiot. However, I don’t think May is any better. She foolishly and passively waits for the man. It’s almost as if she’s playing the game; having Marcher worry about the beast.

This story shows the negative aspect of having the woman in the passive role. The woman feels she has to be pursued by the man rather than be the pursuer. Yes, this is a role that society puts upon women but many seem to accept it. As seen with May Bartram who waits for a male to love and pursue her until her death. Like many women she needs to have Marcher/the man figure out her feelings out and then precede.

However, John Marcher simply does not view May in a romantic light. To him, she is a friend and a tool in his obsession with the so-called beast. “…if the great accident would take form now as nothing more than his being condemned to see this charming woman, this admirable friend, pass away from him.” He clearly does not love May and there’s nothing he can do to change that fact.

Again, it’s easy to demonize Marcher but should he really force himself to love someone? It is my opinion, that both May and Marcher are in the wrong.

At the end, Marcher flings himself onto May’s tomb. This might seem like and act of regret and love but it’s really him trying to avoid facing ‘the beast’ he had so long worried over. “then while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous for the leap was to settle him. His eyes darkened – it was close and instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, face down on the tomb.”

Marcher has discovered “the beast” but he wants to run from it. By flinging himself on May’s grave it’s almost as if he’s seeking the refuge she gave him in life. He wants to go back to the place of ignorance he had with his friendship with May.

Although, possibly not as obsessive as John Marcher there are many who constantly worry about their life going wrong. Almost to the point it prevents them from living. Well, bad things, are likely to happen this is the reality of life. However, one shouldn’t let it prevent them from seeking out pleasure. You don’t want to be like Marcher and have “nothing” happen to you.

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