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Fate in Henry James' The Beast In The Jungle

Henry James always managed to keep certain themes in his works similar. The one that usually stands out most is his literary battles between American and European customs. This is especially apparent in three of his works, Daisy Miller: A Study, Roderick Hudson, and The Portrait Of A Lady. However, in his short story, The Beast In The Jungle, there is another theme that takes center stage. That theme is fate; moreover, the failure to control that fate.

In The Beast In The Jungle, we are introduced to John Marcher, one of the main characters. Immediately afterwards, we meet May Bartram, someone he had met almost ten years prior in Naples, Italy, although he had accidentally thought it to be Rome. The two are getting along splendidly, in a flirtatious way, leaving the reader to wonder about the future of this would-be couple. However, it is then that we find out what eventually kills the hopes of any kind of romantic connection, as May recalls John's special holdup:

You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you, that you had in your bones the foreboding and the conviction of, and that would perhaps overwhelm you (TBITJ, 338).

Marcher believes that he is fated to experience something but he is not sure what it is that he is waiting for. May probes deeper, possibly revealing something about herself and her desire for a connection, asking, "Isn't what you describe perhaps but the expectation--or at any rate the sense of danger, familiar to so many people--of falling in love?" (TBITJ, 339). He talks about a love that he had but that it was not this monumental thing that she talks of. She replies, saying, "Then it hasn't been love" (TBITJ, 338).

This whole conversation has been one flirtatious period of time. However, it quickly turns back to the topic of his fate, cutting short any additional talk of love, possibly leading somewhere. This was a missed opportunity for the both of them because of his obsession with the mysterious destiny. The discussion ends with her promising to "watch with [him]" (TBITJ, 340). And yet, the reason that she will see him again is not to pursue any sort of normal relationship. It is simply the desire to be there when whatever happens to him oc...

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...life has become and what is should have been. He realizes that the beast was actually the person that he met for the second time back in the house in Weatherend at the beginning of the story.

Henry James' works have been known to have a certain autobiographical aspects to them. Looking at his life, one can see that he did not marry either and, just like in Daisy Miller: A Study and most of his other works, the main character's story does not end happily. Throughout the entire time of the story, and more-so his life, John Marcher felt that there was something that he should be waiting for to happen. Something that was spectacular or, instead, brought suffering, he did not have any measure of a clue. Yet he continued to wait for that beast to jump out from the jungle and spark an incident. But what he never understood until the end of the story was that, perhaps, the only beast to be springing forth from the jungle of his life was the pretty swan. Perhaps, the old saying is truly correct, Carpe Diem.

Work Cited

James, Henry. "The Beast in the Jungle." The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Seventh Edition. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. 335-376.
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