The Beast in the Jungle – Henry James
Realism – accurate imitation of life
James (psychological realism) –
A modification of the concept of realism, or telling it like it is, which
recognises that what is real to the individual is that which he or she perceives.
“The Beast in the Jungle” is divided into six sections, each part designated by a roman numeral (I-VI). In
the first section, James introduces the protagonist of the story, John Marcher. Marcher is at a manor house
in the English countryside where he sees a woman whose face and manner stir his memory, although he is
unable to recollect the circumstances of their acquaintance. Before he leaves, Marcher finds himself at
close quarters with the woman. The moment she speaks to him he remembers where they met — in Italy
where both were vacationing ten years previously. During this short renewal of their acquaintance, she
reminds him that he had imparted to her a grave secret in Italy:
he had told her that it was his conviction
that he was destined to experience a monumental and devastating event, but as to the nature of this event,
and when it might occur, he had no inkling. Marcher, who still fervently retains this conviction, is both
pleased and shocked to meet the only human being to whom he has ever confided his deepest, and
perhaps his only, secret. By the end of their conversation May Bartram has agreed to become his special
friend, a friend who will wait and watch with him until the moment his fate is at last revealed.
In Section II Bartram receives an inheritance which allows her to set herself up in a London home.
Bartram’s and Marcher’s proximity leads to a life in which they are constant companions. Most of this
part of James’s story details Marcher’s pleased feelings over having a companion to keep him company
during his “vigil.” There is a sense of much time passing quickly.
Section III opens with Marcher and Bartram discussing the oddity of their lives (spent waiting for
Marcher’s “beast” to spring), and the possibility that both of them might have long been a subject of
especial interest to those who know them, since they have so long been such inseparable friends, and yet
have never married. As in Section II, a sense of the passing of time is brought home to readers when it is
learned that May Bartram has fallen ill from “a deep disorder in her blood,” a disease which will soon
usher her to her death.
This calamity leads Marcher to wonder, with some panic, if time is running out for
him too, and whether he is correct in believing in a special fate. The section ends with Marcher’s bleak
hope that he has not been “sold.”
Section IV opens with a description of one of Marcher’s visits to Bartram. The sight of her wasted
“serene” face, and a conversation they have about his “beast,” causes him once again to doubt his
During this conversation, it occurs to Marcher that Bartram is attempting to “save” him from