Water for Elephants: Overview

Last Updated: 21 Apr 2020
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The story follows Jacob Jankowski who was an old man living in a nursing home, as he looks back about a time that defined his life. In the 1930’s, 23-year-old Jacob’s life changed drastically. One minute he was finishing his Veterinarian degree at Cornell and planning to follow his father in the family business. The next his parents passed away in a car wreck, turning his world upside down. Jacob walked out of his final exams and hopped town, climbing on the first train he could. He quickly found out that it was no ordinary train.

It belonged to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a travelling circus. With no financial prospects and no place to go, Jacob landed a job as the show’s veterinarian. Travelling with the circus had its ups and downs. He had a place to stay, food to eat and animals to look after. But his sleeping quarters were with the horses and a cranky clown, and money was never guaranteed. Jacob’s superior, August, seemed like a nice guy. But his true colors came out when times got tough. And worst of all, Jacob fell in love with the beautiful performer Marlena, who just happened to be August’s wife.

Number of Pages: 325 Setting and Time Era of Novel: Story takes place in a traveling circus and is in the 1930’s during the Great Depression. Character #1 Name: Jacob Jankowski Role in the Novel: Jacob is the narrator through the whole story who talks about his life in a circus. Description: In Water for Elephants there are two parts to Jacob Jankowski, one when he is older and the other when he is younger. The older Jacob Jankowski, 90 or 93 years old, relates his experiences with the ‘Benzini Brothers Circus’, back in 1931, to Charlie, a present day Circus manager.

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The younger Jacob is a 23-year-old young man who must leaves his studies, as a Cornell University veterinary student, after losing both of his parents in a car accident. Out of desperation and grief over his loss he jumps onto a train that happens to house the ‘Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth’, thus beginning his involvement with the circus. After his involvement in the circus Jacob starts to fall in love with Marlena who is married to the circus head animal trainer, August. Character #2 Name: Marlena Rosenbluth

Role in the Novel: Marlena is married to August who is the head animal trainer for the ‘Benzini Brothers Circus’ and is also the star performer in the circus shows. Description: Marlena is the star performer of the Benzini Brothers circus. She married August Rosenbluth, against her parents’ wishes, and ran off with him to join the circus. Marlena endures her husband’s unusual behavior, which is not always the most pleasing in any way but eventually finds comfort with Jacob after they form a bond with Rosie the circus’ new elephant.

Character #3 Name: August Rosenbluth Description: August is Marlena’s husband and the head animal trainer. He is alternately charming and brutal, both to the humans and animals aboard the Benzini Brothers train. Later in the book, it is explained that he is a paranoid schizophrenic. Themes and motifs: The book, Water for Elephants, has a symbolic study of human need for love and acceptance. The primary symbols are revealed through unique characters that struggle to feed deep internal desires. Rosie, the elephant, is a big and powerful symbol.

More than just being a performing animal, Rosie reflects the desperation of so many Americans during the Great depression. Being in the hands of August, Rosie lives a passionless life. When she reaches for more, drinking the sweet circus lemonade that she craves rather than the water that she requires for sustenance, she is beaten into submission. August’s cruel message is clear that the circus is no place for independent passions. Symbols: Water – A symbol of purification, which is portrayed many times. Before Jacob jumps on the train the book states: When I first submerged my feet into frigid water, they hurt so badly I yanked them out again. I persisted, dunking them for longer and longer periods, until the cold finally blistered. " ?Train tracks – Are a symbol of choosing one's direction in life. For instance, the book states: "This is so odd... I'm running beside a moving train in the middle of nowhere". Their Society and Culture: In Water for Elephants, the society and culture is pretty much exactly how it was in the 30’s. Because it was the time of the Great Depression, people did everything they could to make their lives happy.

Book Review: I personally loved everything about this book! Other readers may find themselves churning through this book at a quick pace, eager to see what lies ahead, and then slowing down as they realize the book is coming to and end. Or at least that’s what I was doing. Water for Elephants is a book that can be read over and over again, recommended and handed off between friends; it begs to be discussed and mulled over. With lines of startling beauty, haunting and graphic scenes and finely drawn characters that dance off the page, readers can dip in and out of the novel, immersing themselves in Jacob's memories.

The book is a beautifully written and extensively researched story, and is often surprising and funny. I highly recommend Water for Elephants if you’re looking for an enchanting story with adventures that place the reader alongside Jacob and his wild transfer into adulthood. Definitely a must read! Summary of the Novel: Water for Elephants, written by Sara Gruen, tells the story of a man named Jacob Jankowski, who leaves his life as a Cornell University veterinary student after losing both his parents in a car accident, and jumps onto a train that happens to house the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

After a short confrontation with Blackie, a bouncer that stops stowaways, and Camel, a limp old worker, promising him a job and an audience with Uncle, the ringmaster, Jacob decides to stay aboard the train. Since his parents have died in an automobile accident, and he has not a home to call his own, he decides to remain with the circus. Jacob is employed as the show’s veterinarian and he faces a number of challenges in dealing with the head trainer, August, while also learning how to function in the hierarchy of the circus and falling in love with August's wife, Marlena.

Jacob Jankowski, a ninety year-old man who lives in a nursing home, tells the story as a series of memories. As the memories begin, Jacob Jankowski is twenty-three years old and preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the news that his parents were killed in a car accident. Jacob’s father was a veterinarian and Jacob had planned to join his practice. When Jacob learns that his father was deeply in debt because he had been treating animals for free as well as mortgaging the family home to provide Jacob an Ivy League education, he has a breakdown and leaves school just short of graduation.

In the dark of night, he jumps on a train only to learn it is a circus train. When the owner of the circus, Uncle Al, learns of his training as a vet, he is hired to care for the circus animals. The head trainer, August, is a brutal man who abuses the animals in his care as well as the people around him. Alternately, he can be utterly charming. Jacob develops a guarded relationship with August and his wife, Marlena, with whom Jacob falls in love. August is suspicious of their relationship and beats Marlena and Jacob.

Marlena subsequently leaves August, which is the precipitating event leading to the ultimate demise of the Benzini Brothers circus. As the story climaxes, several circus workers who were red lighted off the train come back and release the animals causing a stampede during the performance. In the ensuing panic, August is killed. As a result of this incident, which occurred during a circus performance, the circus is shut down. Marlena and Jacob leave, along with several circus animals, and begin their life together.

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Water for Elephants: Overview. (2017, May 03). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/water-for-elephants-112717/

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