Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen
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Based on Water for Elephants, is it acceptable or exploitative for the circus to hire those deemed "freaks" for the entertainment of others?

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I suppose the answer to this question depends on one's moral values and the time period.  In the context of the novel, it does not appear that the circus workers feel exploited because they are deemed "freaks" by society.  On the contrary, when Jacob gets Marlena pregnant and realizes that he must leave the circus, Walter is upset because he knows that he will likely not find a job somewhere else.  The circus is somewhere that he can make a living for himself.  But the story takes place around the Depression era, so values and opportunities depend on that historical context.  Today, we might consider that these practices exploit people because they are physically different from the majority.

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