Lost and Unseen Love as the Beast in Henry James' The Beast in the Jungle

Lost and Unseen Love as the Beast in Henry James' The Beast in the Jungle

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Lost and Unseen Love as The Beast in Henry James' The Beast in the
Jungle

The story of "The Beast in the Jungle" by Henry James has a real
message that is pervasive throughout the story, which is that by
spending all your time worrying about what will happen in the future
you miss what is happening to you now, this being represented in the
story by lost love. John Marcher represents what can happen when you
spend all your time worrying about what is going to happen to you, as
opposed to what is happening to you. May Bertram obviously loves him
and he does not see it and realize that he loves her also until it is
too late because he was continually worrying about the overwhelming
feeling of apprehension. "It isn't a question of what I want, God
knows I don't want anything. It's only a question of the apprehension
that haunts me-that I live with day by day" (1562) This apprehension
and feeling of impending danger is May's time running out with him
worrying about something else while neglecting the one person who he
has ever truly loved.

This theme of not looking at what you have is prevalent in the entire
story. Marcher is always looking over his shoulder waiting for this
bad thing to happen to him never realizing that if he stopped looking
to the future and worrying about the future so much that the
"thing"(1562) would never have been able trouble him. Gert Beulens
says:

John Marcher is the benighted author of his own sorry fate. Unable to
see that it is up to him to bring about the major event for which he
secretly feels destined, he never musters the courage to act and ends
up a miserable failure. May Bartram, with whom he has shared his
secret, is perceptive enough to see the nature of his problem, yet she
cannot impart her insight to the obtusely self-absorbed Marcher during
her lifetime. Only after May's death does Marcher come to realize her
importance to him and see that she loved him. Too late, he understands
that he should have acted by returning the passion she felt for him.
Thus summarized, the story is a romantic tale with a palatable moral.
If only the hero had been less self-preoccupied, he would have
responded to the love of this warm and selfless woman. Or, with a
slightly different emphasis, if only the hero had not dreamed in such
lofty terms of a strikingly rare destiny, he would have embraced the
worthwhile opportunities offered by common reality. (Beulen, 17)

This is also prevalent in James's other works, this idea that people

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seek to be "independent and self-directed" (Stuart, 210) but cannot be
is common in many of James's other works.

"although moral absolutes are notably absent in James, there remains a
more limited morality, one specific to a community and to time and
place. As the passage suggests, this moral reality is a social moral
reality, one that depends for its validity on the mutual understanding
and interdependence of the involved community (however small it may
be). In essence, James's protagonists seek the freedom to be
independent, self-directed individuals, but they discover that this
kind of freedom can occur only through what Pippin describes as "an
achieved like-mindedness" with the others on whom they must depend."
(Stuart, 210)

James himself seemed to suffer from the same maladies that Marcher
suffers from in his book, which makes sense considering what is known
about James. He also had trouble with personal attachments in his life
even going so far as to say that they were impossible to have in our
society. This seems to lend credence to the idea that Marcher is
unable to form an attachment that he truly desires because of some
idea that he has about a vague feeling of impending danger. Talking
about James, Kristin Boudreau writes:

he had struggled all of his adult life with the difficulty of
achieving intimacy with his closest associates. In a world governed by
social conventions, James found true contact between individuals often
impossible, in spite of his lifelong efforts to cultivate sympathy, to
share with his fellow mortals what he called the "inward
ache"(Boudreau, 69)

This insight into James parallels what happened to John Marcher in
"The Beast in the Jungle" in that Marcher could not achieve the level
of intimacy with May that he wanted to achieve just as James could not
in his own life with those around him.

Henry James presents a clear moral statement in his short story "The
Beast in the Jungle" which is that you must not be too self-absorbed
and too focused on the future in life otherwise you will miss the
wonderful things that life has to offer. Kristin Boudreau said that
James had this problem in life and that may be one of the reasons why
he chose to write about it. Marcher loved May but could not see it
until the end when the beast of his own self-absorption devoured him
as a result of his missed chance of real love.

Works Cited

James, Henry. "The Beast in the Jungle" The Norton Anthology of
American Literature: Shorter Sixth Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New york:
W.W. Norton, 2003. 1556-1586

Beulens, Gert. "In Possession of a Secret: Rhythms of Mastery and
Surrender in 'The Beast in the Jungle'" The Henry James Review. Johns
Hopkins University Press v. 19.1 (1998): 17-35

Boudreau, Kristin. "Henry James and Inward Aches" The Henry James
Review, Johns Hopkins University Press v. 20.1 (1999): 69-80

Stuart, Christopher J. "Henry James and Modern Moral Life" The Henry
James Review Johns Hopkins University Press v. 22.2 (2001): 209-211
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