Henry James writes a new telling of Narcissus, the mythic god, in his novella, The Beast in the Jungle, but in the form of a man. John Marcher knew from a young age that something horrendously terrible would happen to him someday. He finds a friend in May Bartram who he tells his secret to. As life goes on, they wait for the creature to reveal himself.
John echoes Narcissus in many ways throughout this short tale. He's only concerned with himself and his beast, he uses May to breathe life into his fantasies, and has grand ideas and designs about himself. John falls in love with the idea that there's a monstrous thing waiting for him, singling him out, making him more special than anyone else. However, the beast isn't what he thinks.
May Bartram is a good friend to John, always putting up with his wild claims. But it's more than than, she believes him, and I think she has a reason to believe him. It's insinuated that May knows what the beast is and I think for most of the novella, even most of her life, she did know. May gets sick about halfway through the story and John thinks that watching her die may be the beast. Though he's on the right track, he doesn't exactly have the truth of it.
John is such a selfish person that readers will have trouble feeling bad for him as he watches his friend die. Though it isn't as if he cries and exhibits true feelings about it -- he's actually angered that they can't talk about his beast. He's upset because after May dies, he'll have no one to discuss his beast with, no one to feed his fantasies.
However, a surprising turn of events transpires as May tells John before he dies that the beast has already struck. The realization of what the beast actually was does draw out sympathy for both characters. When John learns of what form the beast took, it is horrifying and sad and terrible -- because he missed his chance to live a life full of love and passion with May.
As a lover of literature, I recommend this short novella to anyone who also enjoys classics and psychological analysis of characters.
Rating: 3/5 Cups