The Beast in the Jungle


Henry James

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May’s Tomb Symbol Analysis

May’s Tomb Symbol Icon

After May Bartram dies, John Marcher frequently visits her tomb in a cemetery near London. Despite the fact that May’s tomb contains her corpse and is marked with her name, it ends up representing Marcher’s lost life with May. Strangely, Marcher claims to be attached to the tomb because it contains all that’s left of his own life, not May’s. Because May was the only person who knew Marcher’s secret and understood Marcher, he feels that her tomb represents his past happiness and positive experiences. When he visits the tomb, he doesn’t feel sad but rather “alive” again, able to bask in good memories.

While visiting May’s tomb, Marcher learns that the terrible fate he’s been awaiting his whole life was to live without experiencing anything, specifically love. He falls down onto the tomb in shock and horror, but true grief isn’t a possibility for him, because he’s spent so long repressing his emotions. The tomb represents the life he could have had with May and chose to forgo—Marcher will never feel “alive” again, because his last chance at any real experience or emotion rests in the tomb alongside May.

With this ending, Marcher’s self-centered view of the tomb makes sense. Marcher’s egotism and belief in his own uniqueness kept him from deepening his bond with May, and his egotism is what led him to believe that May’s tomb represented his own past life. In reality, it represents the life he and May could have had together, had his belief in his fate not gotten in the way. 

May’s Tomb Quotes in The Beast in the Jungle

The The Beast in the Jungle quotes below all refer to the symbol of May’s Tomb. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate and Failure Theme Icon
Chapter 6 Quotes

That had become for him, and more intensely with time and distance, his one witness of a past glory.


What it all amounted to, oddly enough, was that in his finally so simplified world this garden of death gave him the few square feet of earth on which he could still most live. It was as if, being nothing anywhere else for any one, nothing even for himself, he were just everything here, and if not for a crowd of witnesses or indeed for any witness but John Marcher, then by clear right of the register that he could scan like an open page. The open page was the tomb of his friend, and there were the facts of the past, there the truth of his life, there the backward reaches in which he could lose himself.

Related Characters: John Marcher, May Bartram
Related Symbols: May’s Tomb
Page Number: 67-68
Explanation and Analysis:

Through them, none the less, he tried to fix it and hold it; he kept it there before him so that he might feel the pain. That at least, belated and bitter, had something of the taste of life. But the bitterness suddenly sickened him, and it was as if, horribly, he saw, in the truth, in the cruelty of his image, what had been appointed and done. He saw the Jungle of his life and saw the lurking Beast; then, while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to settle him. His eyes darkened—it was close; and, instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, face down, on the tomb.

Related Characters: John Marcher
Related Symbols: The Beast, May’s Tomb
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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May’s Tomb Symbol Timeline in The Beast in the Jungle

The timeline below shows where the symbol May’s Tomb appears in The Beast in the Jungle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Fate and Failure Theme Icon
Understanding and Connection Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon travel, hoping he’ll come up with some answers. Before he leaves, he visits May’s tomb to say goodbye but finds himself staring at it instead, hoping that the secret of... (full context)
Chapter 6
Understanding and Connection Theme Icon
...ordinary, so everything in the world seems ordinary, too. He can’t stop thinking about May’s tomb, which is all that’s left of the person he once was and the fate he... (full context)
Understanding and Connection Theme Icon
Marcher is happy when he sees the tomb again, since May knew and understood him. Her tomb no longer seems blank and cold... (full context)
Fate and Failure Theme Icon
Understanding and Connection Theme Icon
...he rests by May’s grave, and all he wants is to lay down on her tomb, since he has nothing to stay awake for now. (full context)
Fate and Failure Theme Icon
Understanding and Connection Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Courage vs. Cowardice Theme Icon
...Although he’s only hallucinating, Marcher turns to avoid the beast and falls down onto May’s tomb. (full context)