In his article “Possibly Queer Time: Paranoia, Subjectivity, and ‘The Beast in the Jungle'” Matthew Helmers discusses the manner in which May Bartram serves as an anchor for John Marcher in a linear, and “normal” sense of time, rather than the sense of time he had been living in before, which was more easygoing, as it seemed completely unaffected by an unremembered past. Helmers’s reading of Marcher’s time as being “queer” is evidenced in the story by Marcher’s assessment of his meeting with May in Weatherend as being “the sequel of something of which he had lost the beginning” (James 34). The beginning mentioned is lost not only to Marcher, but to the reader as well, making the reader just as reliant on May to fill in the gaps of the past as Marcher is. Helmers argues that by transferring Marcher into this linear sense of time, he and May then act as a heteronormative couple. He explains this by stating: “This unification happens not through the play-acting of heterosexuality but through the ascription of both characters to a specific model of time, a model that the story unites with courtship, history, knowledge, and intersubjectivity” (107). Marcher and May are not performing heterosexuality, but rather the interpretation of the two of them as a heteronormative couple is based on a shared history and their subsequent relationship that mirrors traditional courtships (their frequent outings to museums and the opera), and the passage of time that develops a deeper knowledge and understanding between the two.
As Helmers points out, May is also the one that brings the concept of the beast back into Marcher’s life, thus providing him not only with a past, but also with a future that he had forgotten he was anticipating. Subsequently, Helmers says, Marcher “commits himself to her so that he can watch and wait for the future event” (107). When he is reintroduced to his desire for whatever the future may hold for him, Marcher seeks to hold on to that desire and anticipation by committing both himself and May into both a seemingly heteronormative coupling, and an endless waiting game that only gets interrupted by the deteriorating health and eventual death of May. Thus May serves as a link not only to Marcher’s past and future, but also as a link to his desire. If May’s motivation for committing herself to Marcher is read as her desire for him, then her control of his sense of time and desire is seen as largely in her favor. This, however, makes her unfulfilled desire so much sadder, because, despite the amount of power she has over Marcher’s life, she was unable to gain the one thing she needed from him. By remaining so focused on his anticipation of the beast, Marcher remains ignorant of any desire May might have for him, and in turn any desire he might have for her, or for anyone. However, this does not mean that Marcher’s life is lacking desire, as he spends the entire story desiring to know what the beast may bring for him. His desire is ultimately unfulfilled as he realizes that his lot in life was to actually have a completely uneventful life, but that does not mean that desire was completely absent from his life.
“It had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned away from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall. He had justified his fears and achieved his fate; he had failed, with the last exactitude, she had prayed he mightn’t know. This horror of waking—this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze” (71)
This passage comes markedly at the end of the novella, when Marcher sees the grieving man at the grave and suddenly has an awakening. Marcher realizes, through seeing this mans grief, that he never experienced life to the fullest to understand exactly what real grief felt like. The whole text is written in a what I find to be stream of consciousness, as the sentences run-on and continue into the next thought without any pause. Looking at the very first sentence “It had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned away from him, and the mark, by the time he left her…” it bounces from one thought to another, showing how much Marchers thoughts absorb him into his failure. This realization that May is gone forever and knowing that he will never truly understand his beast, Marcher’s sense of loss has sprung up inside of him. May left a huge sense of unknowing in Marcher, leaving him to question himself once he sees the grieving man at the cemetery. Having justified his fears, meaning giving into his fear of transforming into the said Beast, Marcher feels he lived an anti-climatic life. Marcher “failed, with the last exactitude” failing to see just how much the little details of his relationship with May really affected him. Marcher knew all long, even the tiny details, pointed to his beast, and how he was really in control of his beast the entire time. Realizing this, Marcher felt the “horror of waking” or coming into this knowledge about himself too late. Marcher realizes that he was in control too much of his beast, or what I see as his sexuality. James never fully allows Marcher to explore his beast, and this repression of Marcher’s sexuality makes Marcher go insane. This is why his tears in his eyes freeze, as they come to realize that they, the tears, will never be fully capable of loving, as they have just observed from the stinger in the cemetery. James really relies on the use of stream of consciousness to carry the thoughts that Marcher has throughout the text.
James’ novella views failure as Marcher being unable to realize that he is capable love, missing his chance at being able to fully immerse himself into his relationship with May. All this time Marcher was trying to figure out how to control his beast, without ever realizing that his beast was his inability to transform his relationship with May into a romantic relationship. Marchers beast also represents his sexuality. Marcher spent his whole life, at least the life we see in the story, suppress his sexuality, hoping to find out the secret about himself that he felt May held. Marchers problem seems to be that he cannot seem to come to terms with his sexuality. Marcher never once gives into May, and the desires she seems to carry for him. He, instead, chooses to subject himself and throw himself into finding out what beast he has living in the closet, that he cannot seem to get to come out.