In The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James, May Bartram keeps her silence until the very end of her life, thereby dooming not only Marcher's hopes for happiness but her own as well. Why does she do this? Is this plausible?

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This is a great question, but I would first have to state that I don't believe there is a definitive way of resolving it—as with many issues in literature. It is true that May keeps her silence, but in her last exchanges with Marcher, she reveals enough for us to understand more of the dynamic between them than had been revealed to us through their relationship up to that point. Still, what she reveals is ambiguous. The core of the matter is that although these two have, indeed, had a relationship of a kind for years, we do not know what the actual basis of it has been. Is it mere friendship, or is it a kind of platonic romance? Is it more than platonic, though they never act on the implications of it? Is it some kind of mystical bond that cannot be explained in ordinary terms most people would understand or could relate to?

The only thing that comes through clearly is that there has been something deeply unsatisfactory and unfulfilled in the connection between May and Marcher. Her final illness and death are symbolic of her misfortune in having been attached and devoted to this man who has offered her nothing concrete, a man who has had a lifelong, narcissistic obsession with both an inner demon and the outer Beast he believes has been lurking for him, waiting to destroy him. In the end, Marcher himself realizes that his attachment to May has been a monumental failure, that upon her death he has less claim upon her memory and legacy than "a fourth cousin" of hers would have.

I would disagree with the implication in your question that it is May's silence that has doomed both of them to unhappiness. In this story, as with so much in James's oeuvre, the most decisive points are couched in riddles, stated indirectly or left for the reader to infer out of a mass of detail and observation that is reported to us in elegant language—language that deliberately prevents us from coming to definite conclusions about the characters' inner motivations. As is the case even in James's earlier and much more straightforward Daisy Miller, we somehow feel that the central lives in the story being shown to us are behind a veil. The overall point may be that this is the way most of us appear to other people, as if no one can ever fully understand another person's inner nature.

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May Bartram understands Marcher better than anyone else does. She must bear the burden of taking care of herself as best she can during her illness. May is honest in warning Marcher about pain, suffering, and loss. He is incapable of understanding what she says because he is not grounded. May is drawn to his ethereal qualities in part because they balance her temperamentally, but she knows that he is deaf to her words. The man lives in a fog. He refuses to be responsible for his own happiness.

Part of Marcher's loss stems from his obtuseness. She tries to warn him that he is losing out, but he just doesn't get it. This situation is far more than plausible; it is realistic. Were May to try to use her love as a rope to bind him to her, Marcher would just panic and run away. What she understands is that he has to have these epiphanies in his own time. She just ran out of time to wait for him to grow up.

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