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
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.
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.