Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

From the time of its first appearance in 1903 (in the short story collection The Better Sort ) ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle’’ has been acclaimed as one of James’s most accomplished short stories. Literary critics have found this story evocative and rich in imagery and insight. A reviewer writing in the Nation declared himself ‘‘amazed at the display of an extensive and impartial observation of life, at the mastery of some dominant human motives with their thousand qualifications and modifications and at the variety of capacity for brilliant representation.’’ Since 1903, ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle’’ has inspired numerous critical studies, many of which, including Allen Tate’s in the 1950 Sewanee Review and Millicent Bell’s in her Meaning in Henry James, respond to the story’s fable-like quality. A fable is a short story with an easily understood moral thesis, the most common of which are ‘‘beast fables,’’ or those stories we read as children in which animals talk and act like human beings. Of course, the only beast in James’s story is the beast of Marcher’s imagination, and this story of two genteel uppermiddle- class Britons creates an atmosphere far different from those of beast fables; yet, perhaps the story’s enduring popularity arises, at least in part, from readers’ and critics’ clear apprehension of a moral thesis in this story. This thesis, in two words, might be deemed Carpe Diem...

(The entire section is 527 words.)