The Beast in the Jungle: Novel Summary: Chapter 5
Marcher goes to see May the next day but she is unable to see him. This has never happened to him before and he feels desolate, as if his life is over. He convinces himself that the “beast in the jungle” is the event that is happening now—May’s imminent death and his coming solitude. He also convinces himself that that was what May was trying to explain to him, and he accepts it as his fate.
He tries to visit May again several times, and each time he is turned away without having seen her. Then one day she does receive him, and she seems anxious to make sure that he understands what she means about the “beast.” “You’ve nothing to wait for more. It has come,” she says. Marcher is surprised and wonders how it could have come without his being aware of it. May replies that his not being aware of it is “the strangeness in the strangeness.” She adds that he will never know what it was, and that he ought to be content with this lack of knowledge. Marcher is bewildered. He seeks confirmation from her that the “beast” is none of the things they had feared it might be, in all their discussions. He feels devastated in the knowledge that there is nothing left for him to anticipate—“his light had failed”—although he has no idea of what she means by saying that the “beast” has already come and gone. He does believe that what she says is correct, but since he does not understand what she means he asks her to clarify it. She says that he was destined to suffer his fate, but “not necessarily to know it.” She adds, as Marcher struggles to understand, that he does not need to know. She says that she would continue to live for him, were it possible, but she cannot.
This is the last time that Marcher and May meet. May’s relatives gather, and Marcher reflects on how few rights he has in respect of his long-time friend; even a fourth cousin has more. No one can recognize the connection he had with May, that she was indispensable to him. After she dies, at the cemetery Marcher again feels that he is shut out by the relatives, who take little notice of him. He feels that no one sees in him the dignity of the bereaved, because there is nothing about him that would establish or prove his status, since he is not May’s husband and there was no externally verifiable connection between them.
As the weeks go by, Marcher finds himself looking back and wondering about many things. He has to adjust to the sudden ending of suspense in his life. For so long he had awaited the “beast,” and now he knows that there is nothing more to expect. He does not want to talk to anyone about it. He feels an emptiness inside, but he cannot stop thinking about the “beast.” He accepts what May told him, that what was to happen to him had finally happened, so he no longer has any interest in the future. But he now obsesses on the past, trying to figure out what May meant, and what the “beast” might have been. He makes it his goal to discover what he calls “the lost stuff of consciousness,” to mine his past to find out what really happened.
He decides to travel. Before he sets off, he visits May’s grave. He stands for an hour over it, unable to turn away. He gazes at the tombstone, which is inscribed with her name and date. He wills it to disclose the secret that he knows that she knew, but no light or understanding comes to him.
This chapter reveals the full extent to which Marcher had shaped his entire life around the idea of a momentous event to come. Once that belief is shattered, he has nothing more to live for. It is as if the coming “beast” that he anticipated for so long held all his hopes, that his dull life might suddenly turn around and become exciting, fulfilling, important, significant. Since that did not happen, he is now left with his shriveled self, the life that he really has, not the life he thought must one day come to him, for good or bad. Forced now to live in the present for the first time in his life, he does not know what to do. Totally at a loss, he cannot help but look back and obsess on the past, vowing to identify exactly what the “beast” had been, that had come into his life and gone without him ever knowing it. But so far, he has learned nothing. His visit to May’s grave shows that even after her death, he is still looking to her for inspiration and knowledge.