Fear of Happiness

Before giving an explication from a short passage near the end of “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James, here is a bit of context.

From the beginning of Marcher’s history, when he encounters Bartram for the second time, Marcher already mourns time lost. Bartram reminds him that at their first meeting he had told her his secret desire for his destiny. Without their having been a spark of desire in Marcher it does not seem that he would have had or expressed his feelings. But he did nothing to pursue his desire, and instead he walked away. At their second meeting he guessed their first meeting at seven years prior, but she corrected him that it had been ten years. Noting that a decade had gone by and nothing had happened Marcher thought Bartram, “ever so much older” (497) and calculated that they were already old at 35 and 30. He sets himself for nothing to happen, that it was too late to change. Not to pursue one’s desires, not to evolve into life is a failure.

Helmer, in his first sentence wrote that Marcher “stands petrified in front of his future” (101). In the below excerpt he stands petrified behind his future. In being perpetually petrified, an element of Marcher’s Beast is fear of success and happiness.

Here’s the short passage near the end, it is from the last three sentences of part III:

“He stood for an hour, powerless to turn away and yet powerless to penetrate the darkness of death; fixing with his eyes her inscribed name and date, beating his forehead against the fact of the secret they kept, drawing his breath, while he waited as if, in pity of him, some sense would rise from the stones. He kneeled on the stones, however, in vain; they kept what they concealed; and if the face of the tomb did become a face for him it was because her two names were like a pair of eyes that didn’t know him. He gave them a last long look, but no palest light broke” (535).

At Bartram’s grave, Marcher “stood for an hour, powerless to turn away,” these eight words summarize Marcher’s inability to act on his own behalf for his own desires. “And yet powerless to penetrate the darkness of death” illustrate his refusal to overcome his inabilities. In this sense maybe he is not queer but instead is impotent. In reference to “queer theory” as described in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms another element of the Beast is the social and performative constructions placed on sexuality. In a world where sex and sexuality often dominate one’s conception of being a viable human, impotence is the ultimate failure.

“fixing with his eyes her inscribed name and date,” which are cut into stone, and since eyes are windows into the soul, is Marcher’s acknowledgment that his own refusal to act has been his impenetrable blockade. He created that stone in himself Marcher failed the ability to give and take love.

“beating his forehead against the fact of the secret they kept,” failing here because it wasn’t really a secret. Bartram knew and gave of herself and Marcher did not acknowledge or reciprocate. Beating his forehead as if searching for something, but there he had created only the emptiness of him waiting for someone to give to him.

 

“drawing his breath, while he waited as if, in pity of him, some sense would rise from the stones.” Instead of looking to himself for his happiness, or even to have taken the happiness Bartram offered, Marcher’s fear shuns what he most desires.

“He kneeled on the stones, however, in vain; they kept what they concealed;” kneeling, as if praying, but one cannot get to something without giving something. Concealed inside himself he locked up that most vital element of happiness, the vulnerability of loving back.

“and if the face of the tomb did become a face for him it was because her two names were like a pair of eyes that didn’t know him.” Stone hard, impenetrable protectionism. Because he refused to know himself she never could know him the way he wanted to be known. Marcher fails because he refused to see that happiness comes from giving to others what one has inside.

“He gave them a last long look, but no palest light broke.” All failure.

“What kinds of reward can failure offer us?” (Halberstam 3). Having failed to act toward fulfillment of himself and therefore Bartram, Marcher’s reward was the realization of his fear for happiness.

 

 

 

 

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