Marcher & May’s Complex Relationship

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          One of the most interesting and distinct parts of the novella The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James is the complex relationship between Marcher and May. I found myself stopping at many points throughout the text to try to understand and define their relationship, however I still remain unsure. At surface level they appear to be intimate friends, yet it seems that their relationship is also defined by many elements of a story of love or unrequited love. While he tries to keep to himself for the most part stating that he would not want to burden anyone with his troublesome fate, he is happy that May knows his secret and that he is able to confide in her. May appears to have much stronger feelings for him, as she recalls their interaction from years ago. May states, “‘You’ve been in love, and it hasn’t meant such a cataclysm, hasn’t proved the great affair? (…) Then it hasn’t been love'” (James, 310). From this quote, it appears that May has experienced this type of life-altering love and is disappointed to hear that Marcher has not.

          Despite his supposed worry of being selfish, he consistently acts selfish towards May, particularly in defining their relationship. Even though they spend a great deal of time together over the course of many years and could be viewed as a couple to society, he will not marry her. Later when she tells him that she is dying, he selfishly worries that she will not live long enough to learn what his beast in the jungle is. To me, it appears that May was in love with Marcher but Marcher was too obsessed with his fate and this “beast” to recognize what was right in front of him the whole time. He is only able to recognize his ignorance when he sees the person mourning at the cemetery. Perhaps if he were to have loved May then he would have been saved from the beast in the jungle.

2 thoughts on “Marcher & May’s Complex Relationship”

  1. Hi Shannon, I think you make a good point that Marcher might’ve been saved from the beast if he had risked admitting he was in love with May. I think Marcher had good intentions and wanted to protect both him and May from the beast, but in the end, there was nothing he could do. I think the novella ended with a sentiment of regret in that Marcher sees that knowing May would’ve been even more enjoyable if he had leaned in.

  2. Hi Shannon, I agree with you about the status of their relationship. I think it was pathetic how Marcher would apologize for being selfish, as if that would then cover his actions with a lame apology. Although I am also a little unsure about their relationship, I think May had feelings for Marcher, but thought they were unrequited. I gather she was perhaps too shy and unsure to even be clear with Marcher before her death because he was so obsessed with finding the truth of the beast that he couldn’t be honest with the truth of May’s or his own feelings. Or maybe she knew how she felt, but kept these feelings hidden because she would only get more hurt because Marcher wasn’t emotionally aware enough to reciprocate her feelings.

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