The Beast in the Jungle: Novel Summary: Chapter 2
Over the next year, Marcher and May become friends. With an inheritance she received following the death of May’s great-aunt has allowed May to buy her own house in London. Even before that Marcher had taken her out on occasions to art galleries and museums. He takes great pleasure in the fact that May knows his secret premonition about the “beast in the jungle.” He had never intended to tell anyone, since he would haves expected people to ridicule him over it. He believes that May Bartram is the right person for him to share the secret with. He continues to value her because she was interested in him and took him seriously, not thinking him odd because of the premonition that haunts him. Before he met May for the second time, he was proud of himself for not telling anyone about his secret. He thought he was being unselfish in not burdening them with it. He also tries to make sure that he remains unselfish with May, not wanting always to keep the focus on himself and his predicament. Instead, he tries to make sure that he is considerate of her and talks about her affairs and interests as much as his own. However, although he and May get along well, he does not consider marrying her, because he thinks it would be wrong to burden her with his obsession about what might happen to him. He tries to avoid talking with her about the “beast in the jungle” that will one day pounce on him, and he also tries to cultivate an easy, natural manner with her. The last thing he wants is to be “tense and solemn.” He even writes to her on one occasion, saying that perhaps the thing that he had awaited so long was in fact her purchase of a house in London, since that had enabled them to spend more time together. But she immediately dismisses this notion as being too trivial. he gradually become aware that May is thinking about the “beast in the jungle” as much as he is; it is the yardstick by which she measures his life since she regards it as the “real truth” about him. He notes that that is always how he has regarded it, too.
He explains her interest in him by convincing himself that she thinks he is a little crazy but she likes him in spite of it. If the rest of the world regarded him as strange, she at least knew why. She is so understanding of him that she seems to be able to make his secret her own secret as well. She understands that underlying all his day-to-day activities in the world is a kind of dissimulation, a pretense. It is as if he is wearing a mask that conceals his real self from others.
As the years go by and their close friendship continues, May also hides her true feelings for Marcher behind a mask. He does not notice or think about what she might really be feeling.
One foggy Sunday afternoon, he brings her a gift for her birthday. She remarks that their friendship, which she often refers to as their “habit,” makes him seem just like a normal man, willing to spend a lot of time with “dull women.” This is her way of reassuring him—keeping up the fiction, really—that he is like others, that there is nothing unusual about him. Marcher says he is aware of how much she does for him in that respect, in helping him to present an image of normality to the world. He also confesses to feeling a little guilty, because it almost seems as if he is being unfair to her. He wonders what she is getting out of the relationship. She replies that she is content and interested to continue “watching” for him, awaiting the great event that they are both convinced is to happen.
He wonders whether it is worth it for her, waiting for an event that never seems to happen. Something in her reply makes him wonder whether she doubts that this long-awaited thing will ever happen, but she denies that this is the case. She then asks him whether he is afraid of what may happen, adding that sometimes she has thought that he was. He says that as of now, he is not afraid. May replies that he has lived with the sense of danger for so long that he has got used to it, and accepts Marcher’s interpretation of her words as meaning that he is heroic. But as they continue to talk Marcher has a feeling that she is holding something back from him. He says to her, “You know something I don’t.” He thinks that she already knows what it is that will happen to him, and that she is afraid to tell him. He fears that what will happen is so bad that she is scared that he will find out what it is. She tells him that he will never find out.
This section covers a long period in the relationship between the two characters. Many years pass, and May Bartram and Marcher form a close friendship. As the years go by Marcher is revealed to be a very self-involved man. He is not aware of what is really going on between himself and May. Nor is he a good judge of his own actions. An example is how he prides himself on not being selfish. He doesn’t tell anyone about his private obsession because he doesn’t want to burden them with it. This is also the reason (or so he tells himself) that he does not consider asking May to marry him, and why he does not talk much to her directly about the “beast in the jungle.” He thinks he is being considerate. But the truth is that he is so obsessed with the idea of this mysterious fate that he is someday to meet that he is not capable of seeing what is actually going on in the present. The reader begins to form a picture of a man who is fooling himself that he is not being selfish when in fact he is exactly that. Self-obsessed might be a better way of putting it. A clue to this state of self-absorption on the part of Marcher is contained in the following passage that immediately follows the hint that May is perpetually covering up her real feelings for him: “Her whole attitude was a virtual statement, but the perception of that only seemed called to take its place for him as one of the many things necessarily crowded out of his consciousness.”