The Beast in the Jungle: Novel Summary: Chapter 6
Marcher travels for a year. He visits Asia, going to all kinds of romantic and spiritual locations, but he finds the world “vulgar and vain.” He still feels different from others, but he no longer has anything to hold on to that would explain that feeling. Instead, he is just like everyone else; no longer having that special “beast” to await, he is now just one of the crowd. He still thinks of May’s grave, and immediately on his return to London he visits it again. He finds some comfort in this, knowing that May, who lies underneath that particular piece of ground, knew of his experience, even if he did not. This knowledge helps to lift his mood. He resolves to return to the grave every month, although he no longer feels such an urgent need to discover exactly what the “beast” had been.
Marcher keeps his promise to himself and visits the grave each month. His life is meaningless both to himself and to others but at the gravesite he finds himself feeling more alive. He feels that the real truth of his life is right there in the tomb of his friend. He thinks of May as his “other, his younger self.” It seems to him that he is wandering through the past arm-in-arm with her, and this gives him the sense of identity he otherwise lacks—the feeling that he is alive because “he once had lived.”
For a year he visits the grave each month; then a chance incident changes his life. At the cemetery on a gray autumn afternoon, he notices another man visiting a nearby fresh grave. The man is middle-aged and clearly in mourning. That day Marcher is at a low point and feels that he would be quite content to die, stretched out on May’s tombstone. When the other man leaves the grave he has been visiting he passes by Marcher. Marcher knows immediately that the man is grieving deeply, and the man looks directly into Marcher’s eyes “with an expression like the cut of a blade.” Marcher is struck by the rawness of the man’s grief, which is etched in his face, and the contrast that makes with his own composed appearance. He suddenly realizes that the other man has passion, and that he himself has never known such depths: “No passion had ever touched him.” He realizes, having observed this stranger, that this was the way a woman should be mourned, “when she had been loved for herself.” He also knows that this was not the way he had loved May. He realizes the emptiness of his past life as well as his present one. He also realizes that May herself was what he had missed. This was the “beast in the jungle,” the long-awaited thing that had happened to him; he had failed to love her for herself, and so he had become a man to whom nothing at all was going to happen. He had loved her only because of what she could do for him, never for herself only, whereas she had loved him for himself. He remembers back to that day in April when she had told him it was not too late, and how he had failed to understand what she was saying. That was the moment when the “beast” sprung. As he realizes the extent of his total failure, he moans, especially remembering that May had prayed that he might never know. He tries to feel the pain of it all, since at least that would show he was still alive. But he still finds the truth almost impossible to face, and in torment he flings himself face down on May’s tomb.
Knowledge finally comes to Marcher—but it is too late. His life has passed him by while he waited for it to happen. He had a friend, May Bartram, who loved him dearly, entered into his inner world and made it her own, but he could not respond to her in similar fashion because he was too obsessed with himself, unwilling to live life in the moment, always waiting for something he was convinced would happen in the future. He was not even aware that she loved him. It took the sight of a man who knew how to suffer because he had loved with passion to wake Marcher up to the truth of his situation. He had been afraid of life and afraid to love, and therefore was not able to recognize love when it was offered to him over the course of many years. His egoism, the very selfishness he wanted so hard to avoid, blinded him to the truth.