Summary: the Sense of Realism in "The Beast in The Jungle"

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 In James’ insightful writing of “The Beast in the Jungle,” the reader is placed on the outside looking into the egocentric mind of John Marcher. The story is centered around Marcher’s obsession over “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible that was sooner or later to happen”. The narrator keys in on the depths of Marcher’s thoughts towards significant events in his life, but more specifically May Bartram, his special “friend.” Marcher awaits his destiny of what he believes to be the passing of some catastrophic fate that will define his life. James’ use of a third person point of view allows for the Realism of John Marcher’s psychological development to be portrayed by walking through John Marcher’s “adventure” with this Beast of self actualization that is “destined to slay him or to be slain”.

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Marcher is extremely closed off mentally from the rest of society and appears lonely from the beginning. He claimed to be “lost in the crowd” of party goers and doesn’t socialize with others until he notices May Bartram. Having vaguely remembered their previous encounter 10 years ago, a conversation sparks about his so-called secret that May still remembers having been told. Marcher is relieved to hear that May does not find his passion of waiting for some life defining traumatic event to be unreasonable. Instead, she finds it interesting and rather intriguing and decides to “watch with him” for this unforeseeable event. Prior to this agreement, their growing friendship brings about the egocentric side of Marcher. He thinks only of himself and of his secret that no one, but May, knows about. He tries to justify his selfishness by trying to pride himself. He’d not asked her to marry him because “his obsession wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share” , as if she could not experience his “great” fate with him, but rather watch beside him. Also, buying her a small, inexpensive trinket as a birthday gift was enough effort to make him feel as though he could be perceived as selfless. This obsession he has over his future fate is seen as a blur in his perception of himself that he is unaware of.

Since May and Marcher become closer companions, May claims to have a clear understanding of who Marcher truly is and supposedly knows what this mysterious event will be. This “watching” they do together essentially consumes their lives and becomes a central part of their relationship. As an outsider, their friendship is nothing short of unusual, but May states “all that concerns me-to help you to pass for a man like another”. She devotes herself to, in a way, protect him and his image to society so that he can be himself in that of waiting for his revealing event. After subtly acknowledging his appreciation for May, he is unexpectedly informed that she has become ill having developed a disorder in her blood. Marcher begins to second guess and wonder if this event may never happen, or if May, having dedicated her life to this idea of his, happens to pass before the event occurs. This lead to the fear that he’d potentially wasted his life, yet his worry over this unknown “beastly” event remains the overarching concern to the situation; even May’s near death. Watching her grow more frail and weak, Marcher continues to question her and even claims “having this one, you give me no more light on it, you abandon me”. He accuses her of some wrong doing by not telling him what this Beast he waits for is. Marcher sees the truth in her face, but is still unable to read her mixed signals of what is to come, or for that matter, has come.

After May’s passing, Marcher is left feeling empty, as if he had failed. He is left only knowing that there was no more waiting and watching to do. He’s brought to a new light when he is neglected by May’s family members. Realizing he’d been nothing more than a close companion and that “she had been features of features in his,” he thinks that maybe “a woman might have been, as it were, everything to him”. Marcher describes the metaphor of his lurking in the jungle through the grass waiting for the Beast to pounce, yet “the Jungle had been threshed to vacancy” and “the Beast had stolen away”. He’d spent his entire life fixated on this life changing event that inevitably came and went, leaving him to conclude that he must now live to experience all that he was blinded from.

Relating back to James’ sense of Realism in “The Beast in the Jungle,” we see John Marcher as this “flawed character.” The narrator paid close attention to the detailed description of what’s going through his mind rather than his physical actions. This “adventure” of coming to realize what he should have appreciated while he had it was purely psychological. It was Marcher’s unravelling mind trying to put together the pieces of his hopeful fate. In reality, his fate hung right in front of his face throughout his entire life. He was districted by this fear of commitment and making himself vulnerable to others, which left a life of love and opportunity pass him by. Marcher was so centered on having this defining moment in life, that he lost sight of living it in the moment. James writes this story in a way that leaves the reader often confused just as John Marcher is as he undergoes his adventure. His self actualization concludes the “pounce of the Beast” that is the realization of the life he should have lived.

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