The Beast in the Jungle’s protagonist, John Marcher, believes that he’s destined for some rare and maybe terrible fate, which he refers to as a crouching “beast in the jungle.” This “beast” represents Marcher’s fate, though Marcher doesn’t know what that fate will be. While the image of a beast suggests carnage and destruction, Marcher doesn’t necessarily think his fate will be violent. The beast might not “spring” at Marcher with ill intent, but it will spring at some point. The fact that Marcher imagines his fate as something akin to a beast suggests that he believes that meeting his fate will be an unmissable event; if a beast attacks, one would be expected to notice it. Because he knows the beast stalks his every move, Marcher avoids getting close to anyone in order to keep his fate a secret and, likely, in order to avoid losing anyone to the beast. The only person who knows about his fate is his close friend May Bartram, with whom he shared his secret years ago.
As Marcher grows older, he worries that there is no “beast” at all, and that he’s wasted his life anticipating some great fate. Notably, Marcher would rather his fate be violent and bloody than nothing at all—this would align neatly with his violent image of the beast. But after May dies, Marcher learns that she knew what the beast was and was trying to spare him from it. May loved Marcher and guessed that his fate was to live a life without passion or emotion—during a climactic conversation, she tried to hint at her feelings for Marcher, hoping that he’d reciprocate. Marcher realizes that the beast emerged when he failed to grasp her hints. In this way, the beast did represent Marcher’s fate, but that fate was his anticipation itself, as he threw away his chance at happiness due to the imagined beast. After this realization, Marcher imagines the beast jumping out at him one final time, but in this instance, the image of the beast is ironic—there is no violent and bloody fate in store for Marcher and encountering the “beast” was a passive experience that he didn’t even notice at the time.
The Beast Quotes in The Beast in the Jungle
The real form it should have taken on the basis that stood out large was the form of their marrying. But the devil in this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question. His conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him. Something or other lay in wait for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching Beast in the Jungle. It signified little whether the crouching Beast were destined to slay him or to be slain. The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt.
Oh he understood what she meant! “For the thing to happen that never does happen? For the Beast to jump out? No, I’m just where I was about it. It isn’t a matter as to which I can choose, I can decide for a change. It isn’t one as to which there can be a change. It’s in the lap of the gods. One’s in the hands of one’s law—there one is. As to the form the law will take, the way it will operate, that’s its own affair.”
What could the thing that was to happen to him be, after all, but just this thing that had began to happen? Her dying, her death, his consequent solitude—that was what he had figured as the Beast in the Jungle, that was what had been in the lap of the gods. He had had her word for it as he left her—what else on earth could she have meant? It wasn’t a thing of a monstrous order; not a fate rare and distinguished; not a stroke of fortune that overwhelmed and immortalised; it had only the stamp of the common doom. But poor Marcher at this hour judged the common doom sufficient. It would serve his turn, and even as the consummation of infinite waiting he would bend his pride to accept it. […] He had lived by her aid, and to leave her behind would be cruelly, damnably to miss her. What could be more overwhelming than that?
There were moments as the weeks went by when he would have liked, by some almost aggressive act, to take his stand on the intimacy of his loss, in order that it might be questioned and his retort, to the relief of his spirit, so recorded; but the moments of an irritation more helpless followed fast on these, the moments during which, turning things over with a good conscience but with a bare horizon, he found himself wondering if he oughtn’t to have begun, so to speak, further back.
He couldn’t have made known she was watching him, for that would have published the superstition of the Beast. This was what closed his mouth now—now that the Jungle had been thrashed to vacancy and that the Beast had stolen away. It sounded too foolish and too flat.
The escape would have been to love her; then, then he would have lived.
The Beast had lurked indeed, and the Beast, at its hour, had sprung; it had sprung in that twilight of the cold April when, pale, ill, wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, she had risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess. It had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall.
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.