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Water for Elephants ?1

May 29, 2007

Welcome to our discussion of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. If there is a particular question you would like to discuss, please e-mail me at and I can post it. Thanks! 

How does the novel’s epigraph, the quote from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, apply to the novel? What are the roles and importance of faithfulness and loyalty in Water for Elephants? In what ways does Gruen contrast the antagonisms and cruelties of circus life with the equally impressive loyalties and instances of caring?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth permalink
    May 29, 2007 11:51 am

    “An elephant’s faithful -one hundred percent” Rosie was faithful to Jacob by killing the evil August. Of course in the opening chapter, I didn’t realize she was an elephant! The loyalty between characters reminds me of loyalty in prisons. You need to have people on your side that you can trust and that can help keep you safe. There was no where to run similar to a prison. (Not that I have first hand knowledge of prison life 🙂

  2. May 29, 2007 4:39 pm

    Rosie’s little surprise action at the end of the book also demonstrates loyalty towards Marlena, in the form of protecting her. It seemed like most of the acts of loyalty in the book sprang from the need of the characters to protect themselves and each other from Uncle Al and August.

  3. May 30, 2007 8:11 pm

    I agree with melissa O, many of the acts of loyalty are demonstrated through protection of another person. Jacob wanting to protect Rosie, Marlena, Camel, and Walter.

    Jacob was in some ways like Rosie, they both spoke Polish :), loved Marlena and were loyal to the end.

  4. June 1, 2007 12:05 pm

    Loyalty was definitely a strong theme throughout the book. Sometimes I felt it was in repayment for helpfulness (as with the older guy who helped Jacob in the beginning and then Jacob helped hide in his “room”). Loyalty was also out of love, as with Marlena, Rosi and Jacob (between all three of them).

    *Sorry I’m not good at remembering characters names and I read this several books ago.

  5. June 5, 2007 1:50 pm

    I agree with all and liked Nicole’s reference to “repayment” – definitely not all loyalty comes from love or respect in the book

  6. Andrea V. permalink
    December 8, 2007 9:12 pm

    I recently read Water for Elephants, which I read on my own and no one in my book club has read. I had a question that I didn’t quite get while reading the book (which is why I SOO enjoy book club — to get these pesky questions answered! LOL). When Jacob said the lawyer was lying and he couldn’t have carried water for elephants for the circus — I never understood why he was sure the lawyer was lying. Why couldn’t he have carried water for the elephants? I guess I missed the answer while reading because I never remember reading how the elephants got their water. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!!!

  7. March 7, 2008 10:42 am

    I am answering questions 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 14,and 15 for credit in a masters class.
    I would really appreciate any comments from others regarding these questions.

  8. Scott permalink
    April 1, 2008 6:19 pm

    elephants drink way too much water!! you don’t take water to the elephant, you take the elephant to the water

  9. Kayla permalink
    August 18, 2008 1:08 am

    I thought that the theme of this book was about Jacob’s own self discovery. He starts out as a naive kid who runs away from his life and responsibilities. Later on he learns about self respect, love and compassion. I agree that loyalty was a big theme in the book as well. Jacob feels still loyal to Rosie after all those years. I think that Jacob related to Rosie. They were both Polish and were misunderstood. They both went through hardships and beatings. In the end they both found a happy ending. 🙂

  10. arichlen permalink
    May 15, 2009 4:21 pm

    I thought this book was fantastic!! I thought parts were hilarious! Especially the fact that Rosie wasn’t “dumb,” she spoke a different language. I loved that little surprise. And even more so, who the killer was…initially my thoughts were Marlena, but throughout the book, I did not think it were possible for her to have been the one. It wasn’t in her so even though I was surprised, I think I kind of knew.
    I am a huge Dr. Seuss fan, so I loved the quote at the beginning of the book and even though this book really wasn’t about water for elephants or even focusing mainly on elephants at all, it was a great quote to use because Rosie was faithful 100%, I was a little surprised that it had taken her so long to act out towards August. And really it was Rosie that shaped the rest of their (Jacob and Marlena’s) life together. How much sweeter could it have been when Marlena fought to keep the horses and Jacob Rosie? This book was heartbreaking and exciting and tender and devastating and humorous…not many books can bring out such emotion!

    • Joyce Hahn permalink
      June 30, 2010 9:03 pm

      I just finished reading this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m struggling with the title. It seems I always make a big deal out of the title of a book so I can tie it all in together neatly. Scott commented earlier that an elephant drinks a lot, the elephant has to go to the water instead of the water being brought to the elephant. This may be looked at in two ways in this novel. The first idea being that the elephant takes charge of the situation and kills August, thereby going to the source of the evil (going to the water himself). The second idea I had was the pride and ownership of a lifetime of knowledge which Jacob had about the circus life, his life. Jacob must have known that you don’t bring water to elephants, and the resident he refused to sit at the table with knew nothing of the reality of circus life. The title therefore implies a practice only one close enough can know.

  11. Beth permalink
    September 19, 2011 11:05 am

    I’m just wondering if the circus really happen. The nurse mentions that as we age we remember what we want as memories as opposed to actual events. Also, the last chapter seems illogical and highly unlikely even in a fictitious novel.

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