Analyze and discuss the seasonal and/or dark and light imagery in "The Beast in the Jungle."

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Marcher's name suggests March, the beginning of spring, a time of newness and rebirth. He truly believes something, either great or terrible, will happen to him. In any case, this "something" will be new and is thus related to the idea of spring. At first, May suggests this "something" will be falling in love. John dismisses this. John thinks he is involuntarily "marching" toward his own fate, which becomes worse in his mind as time goes on. He refuses to marry May to save her from sharing his fate but simultaneously asks her to wait with (and for) him. John is too self-absorbed with his own fate to really open up to May. Of course, "May" is symbolic of spring as well. However, you should also note that her name, "May," implies possibility: a possibility of living fully that John does not see but one that May does.

As John comes to believe that his event will be terrible, we could say it is more symbolically a "fall." The word "fall" connotes autumn as a time leading to winter and as the end of the growing season. The "fall" also connotes the Biblical "fall" of Adam and Eve, which was a fall from grace into knowledge. John was so occupied with himself that he did not allow himself to "fall" into the knowledge of his self-imposed oppression. He also did not allow himself to "fall" in love.

Note the use of "spring," "sprung," and "fall" in the story. Although spring usually signifies a beginning and something good, while autumn usually signifies the end or death, James plays with these terms and underscores John's own confusion.

It had sprung as he didn't guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall.

There is a lot of wordplay, so it is hard to give a conclusive interpretation. One conclusion is that "falling" in love, something John avoided, might have given him a kind of rebirth (spring) and saved him from a lifetime of anxious waiting.

charsteph88 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James' "The Beast in the Jungle," both seasonal and "dark" and "light" imagery are used to highlight the passage of time and changing of the physical seasons. This is done in order to evoke a sense of repetition and the cyclical quality of nature and events which occur over time. These events, such as the changing of the seasons and the rising and falling of the sun, are eternal; that is to say, they go on forever without stopping.

The characters in the story are named after months of the year, Marcher and May, and the house where they first meet is called Weatherend. Throughout the story, each scene of importance in which the two main characters interact takes place during either spring or fall. Spring is a season which reminds us of opportunity, promise, and the coming of happy times ahead. This can be characterized as "light," while fall can be characterized as the coming of a "dark" time, or winter, when depression and a sense of loss are common.

For example, October is when May and Marcher meet at Weatherend, during which they both experience a feeling of melancholy and a loss of purpose. In section IV of the story, May is sick and Marcher doesn't understand her mention of the "beast" when she alludes to it. The "beast" is a darkness, or an ill fate that seems to be hunting Marcher, and he has a sense of foreboding about it, as though he cannot do anything to stop it, as with the changing of the seasons. May's birthday even takes place in the fall, which is during a time of "general outward gloom." During this time there is fog, which could suggest a blockage in what Marcher is capable of seeing; he is unsure of his own future, of his fate. The last scene of the story takes place in a cemetery during the autumn, a setting which bodes ill for the future, and shows the ushering in of darkness once more.