The Beast in the Jungle: Novel Summary: Chapter 3
The friendship continues, with Marcher still trying his hardest not to be selfish. If he falls from this ideal, he is quick to make it up. He asks May to accompany him to the opera on no less than twelve occasions in one month. They go back to her house where they go over parts of the opera, with May at the piano. On one such occasion, he asks May how she has managed to avoid, as he has done, “that appearance of variation from the usual human type,” since their relationship has surely been noticed and talked about. She replies at first somewhat cryptically, as if she is merely parrying his inquiry, but then she admits that the only thing that concerns her is enabling him “to pass for a man like any other,” that is, to make him think he is normal. He expresses his gratitude for her statement, although he is still thinking of what passed between them on their birthday, that she knows something about his fate but does not tell him. But he is too inhibited to bring this subject up again, although he never forgets it. He consoles himself with the belief that she cannot know anything about what awaited him any more than he could, although he is also aware that sometimes women were more perceptive in such matters than men.
He also feels during these days something he has not felt before—the fear of losing her due to some catastrophe. This is partly because there is some uncertainty surrounding her health. He even wonders whether this is the hidden event that is to happen to him. When May confesses some time later that she has a disorder of the blood, Marcher worries that she may die before knowing what the “beast” is; or, worse, that if she has some intuitive insight into what this event might be, and she dies before it takes place, she would suffer because she had adopted his curiosity about the coming “beast” as the basis of her life. Marcher is disconcerted by these thoughts.
Marcher now always visits May at her home, since she is no longer able to go out. She always sits in the same chair by the fire, and he notices one day how much older she looks. He realizes that so many years have gone by that she is almost old, and he certainly is. He wonders if the event that he has awaited for so many years is in fact the death of his friend. He thinks that if this is so, it will be an anti-climax, the “beast in the jungle” turning out to be quite different than what he was expecting, which was some event that would make his life a success rather than a failure. He continues to be distressed that May may have waited in vain for so many years for this great event.
He is also faced with the sudden realization that it may be too late for this mysterious event to happen to him. He feels old and stale, and that if nothing is to happen to him, his life has been a failure. He would even prefer some great disaster to befall him, such as bankruptcy or even “hanging” rather than the necessity of living with the knowledge that nothing was going to happen.
In this section James builds carefully on the curiosity aroused in his reader by the nature of the future event that Marcher, and as a result of him, May Bartram, have anticipated for so many years. Their speculation about this event, much of it unspoken, has dominated their lives. What on earth will it be? the reader wonders, along with Marcher himself. Does May really know what that event is to be?
This section moves the tale forward first be reemphasizing that Marcher tries so hard to go beyond what he calls “egoism,” or being too concerned about himself. He thinks he has compensated for any trace of egoism by taking May out and trying not to talk about himself too much. This is what he refers to as “his not eternally insisting with her on himself.” But sure enough, the topic that dominates their relationship keeps coming up. It is clear to the reader, if not to Marcher, that May Bartram has pretty much subjugated her own life and desires to those of Marcher. For some reason, she is devoted to him. Her statement, for example, “It’s all that concerns me—to help you to pass for a man like another” shows she is dedicated to helping this man, who feels singled out by a peculiar and as yet unknown destiny, feel that he is in fact no different from anyone else. This is a great service that she performs for him, and he is aware of it, but he does not seem to stop for a moment to consider what her deeper feelings for him might be.
The prospect of May’s death shakes up Marcher’s rigid and long-held views about his own life, so much of which has been spent waiting for the “beast” to pounce. For the first time he admits to himself that, well, perhaps nothing will happen at all. This scares him because then he will have to face up to the emptiness of his life. This is the first step he takes on a journey that will eventually lead him to discover what exactly the “beast” is.