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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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.