Henry James strongly believed in the power of the imagination; he once said, "…so long as the events are veiled, the imagination will run riot and depict all sorts of horrors, but as soon as the veil is lifted, all mystery disappears" ("Henry James"). In his novella, "The Beast in the Jungle," James employs characterization through dialogue to explain that imagining and anticipating one's own mysterious fate will cause one's downfall.
In the story, "John Marcher believes he is destined for something enormous, not necessarily good or bad" (Bloom 30). He absorbs himself in anticipating his future so much that he forgets social manners and practical living. Marcher meets May Bartram, but forgets that they meet ten years ago, "signifying his inability to concentrate on anything but himself" (31). Marcher perceives Bartram as confirmation for his superstitions because she acknowledges the fact that he reveals to her that he waits for something rare and strange. Throughout the story, Marcher and May interact with nobody else; "their lives seem to exist only in relation to the other" (32). This eventually leads to Marcher's tragic downfall.
Their unconventional bond causes Marcher to live life like abnormally. He does not feel romantic passion for May because he is so involved in himself. John views his relationship with May as one of convenience and assurance that he is not alone in his irrational thinking. He needs confirmation from her and views her as if she knows everything, which is evident by the amount of questions he asks her throughout the story. She responds to his curiosity reminiscent of a mother responding to a child - with simplistic and conservative answers. For example:"Do you think me simply out of my mind?" he pursued instead of answering. "Do I merely strike you as a harmless lunatic?""No," said May Bartram. "I understand you. I believe you." (James)May, on the other hand, differs completely from Marcher; "she shows no right or claim to him" (Hansot 133). While John purely concerns himself with his future, "May is primarily alert to Marcher's condition in the present. Marcher has needs that May can meet, needs that make him dependent on her for sympathy, understanding, and support… [which] may be used to develop and serve their relationship in the present" (136). John's rapport with Bartram satisfies her affection for him.
John's naïve dialogue clearly proves his obsession with his fate. Marcher's tragedy is actually an anticlimax, with the "beast in the jungle" being the absence of a beast, yet, in a way, the beast is indeed present. The beast transforms itself into the death of May Bartram:Her dying, her death, his consequent solitude-that was what he had figured as the Beast in the Jungle… it wasn't a thing of a...