Coward in the pale light of April

In chapter IV of Henry James’s novella “The Beast in the Jungle,” Marcher visits Bartram feeling a “sadness sharper than all the greyest hours of autumn” (54). Marcher is aware of Bartram’s fading beauty and health—while also selfishly stressing the fact that her watch for the “beast” is still so important to him. During the visit the two go back and fourth, taking turns dancing around the topic of Marcher’s fate to come, his “beast” waiting to pounce: he asks her has the “beast” appeared already. He is taken aback when Bartram “rose from her chair—a movement she seldom risked herself in these days” in order to punctuate her point: “I’m with you—don’t you see?—still…I haven’t forsaken you” (57). Marcher is disconcerted by her actions, and begins to doubt his fortune, asking her “I haven’t waited but to see the door shut in my face?” (58). She reassures him “The door isn’t shut. The door’s open.” Marcher unwittingly asks, “Then something’s to come?” Bartram patiently opens her answer “It’s never too late” (58). James’s language here attempts to hint at possibilities, but only rather lightly—that is to say, it fails to be obvious or forward. The author’s dialogue between the two hints at a distance between the two—Marcher is confused and looking for guidance, and Bartram is reluctantly presenting herself as an option to Marcher’s sought after illusion—something that Marcher misunderstands.

James uses Bartram’s body language and direction to clue both Marcher and the reader in. After her reply to Marcher’s question, there is a “diminished…distance between them” and James’s narration offers that her “movement might have been for some finer emphasis of what she was at once hesitating and deciding to say” (59). I think that Marcher is aware of his cowardice when he asks these questions to Bartram, that is why they are so deliberately self-deprecating. It seems that Bartram doesn’t state the obvious in order not to wound her confused suitor, but to invite Marcher’s inclinations in hopes that he may see her as an opportunity for love and reach out. Marcher is too timid to reach out and grab his “beast”—instead he is hopelessly talking himself in circles, failing to read Bartram’s subtexts and offer himself a confident translation. It’s as if his character has made such a habit of relying on passivity—in terms of living his life—that he is willing to ignore the clues that beg for him to make a move. He is paralyzed by the presentation of his own fate—talking himself out of whether it is present because he wouldn’t know what to do if it were. Marcher has become so complacent that he is in actual fear of living life more actively. Marcher’s meek, misguided actions in this chapter are proof of his fear of commitment, his fear of love.

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