Burden of Truth

In the blog written by jab23 they posit that, “In being perpetually petrified, an element of Marcher’s Beast is fear of success and happiness” in regards to the dilemma of James’s protagonist (“Fear of Happiness”). They go on to relate this fear to an “inability to act on his own behalf for his own desires” and use the example of Marcher “[a]t Bartram’s grave” where he “stood for an hour, powerless to turn away. And yet powerless to penetrate the darkness of death” (“Fear…”). jab23 says this latter statement also “illustrate[s] his refusal to overcome his inabilities” (“Fear…”). So though Marcher is in-able to “act on his own desires,” even when he comes to realize this while at Bartram’s grave, he refuses to overcome this inactivity and we are to believe that this may be out of a “fear of success and happiness.” jab23 goes on to use a question from Halberstam, “What kinds of reward can failure offer us?” in order to ask what Marcher’s reward is for this inactivity, and they assert that it is in fact the realization of his “fear of success and happiness” (Halberstam 3). Ultimately, while Marcher was staring into Bartram’s headstone thinking of the past, his epiphany is that he is “powerless” to achieving success or happiness, paralyzed of their prospect. The reward of his failure: a crippling realization of his crippling fear.

After reading vanessatshionyi’s blog titled “Masochistic Passivity,” I came across a quote by writer Jamaica Kincaid who said that Americans “…are inevitably looking for a happy ending” and “find difficulty very hard to take” (132). I think this sentiment rings true with the image of Marcher at Bartram’s grave in mind. He clearly isn’t taking things well, and is coming to terms with his search for a happy ending and then finding fear of happiness. In light of another quote by Kinkaid, Marcher found truth, and as the writer says of this reward that “truth often seems to be not happiness but its opposite” (132). I then ask, is the opposite of happiness the fear of happiness then, a truth? I think that the fear of not being happy drives people to pursue happiness in a less prejudicial manner—something that looks like Ehrenreich’s form of optimism, the indiscriminate “mass delusion.” But do those living in fear of happiness reject optimism and adopt negativity and then subsequently aren’t deluded? Are negative thinkers then, sharper and using their fear more discernibly? Are they like Kinkaid says, more predisposed to truth in warding off false optimism?

vanessatshionyi states that they think “Kincaid and Ehrenreich question whether putting on the facade of happiness allows us to actually ask critical questions of our society. Kincaid and Ehrenreich use masochistic passivity to ask those critical questions of their society.” Once again, with Marcher’s epiphany in mind, I think that the term “masochistic passivity” fits very well—in fact I think he could be the poster boy for that term. Taking each of those words and applying them separately we can see that James’s protagonist is certainly tortured and very passive. Marcher is haunted by this beast, this burden, but he is very passively pursuing its presence—constantly treading the usual routines and leaving many decision up to Bartram as to what to do with it. In many ways Marcher, in leaving control up to Bartram, is avoiding the typified male gender role of being in charge. According to vanessatshionyi, “Masochistic passivity rejects the normative roles that patriarchal society places upon its members”—a description that I think encompasses Marcher and Bartram’s particular relationship. Bartram acts as more of a mother to Marcher, than he acts as a father to her.

Marcher may not be optimistic throughout James’s novel, but he also doesn’t really ask critical questions of himself until the end. All along I think he was massively deluded by this idea of a beast. So is he treading a fine line between positive and negative thinking until he finds then the “opposite of happiness”? I think that there are times in which Marcher and Bartram are “putting on the facade of happiness” by performing the occasional “normative roles” in public, but not in private where their relationship resembles more of a “masochistic passivity.” In regards to vanessatshionyi’s claim that “Kincaid and Ehrenreich question whether putting on the facade of happiness allows us to actually ask critical questions of our society” I would posit that James with “The Beast in the Jungle” is doing much the same.

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