Water for Elephants Questions and Answers
by Sara Gruen

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How does Water for Elephants connect with real life?

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Water for Elephants is a story about an elderly man, Jacob, who recalls an adventure in his younger years. He worked as a veterinarian with a circus. During his time there, he fell in love with the head animal trainer's wife, Marlena. The trainer, August, was cruel to the animals in the circus. Other workers at the circus helped to free the animals, including an elephant named Rosie. During the chaos of the animal stampede, Rosie killed August. 

Jacob and Marlena took the animals and started a new life together, including spending some time with the Ringling Brothers. Jacob relays the story of how his wife is now deceased and he has escaped from a nursing facility. He has no close familial relations, and the story concludes with Jacob joining another circus.

There are several concepts within this book that are pertinent to real life. The concept of aging and the isolation sometimes felt by nursing facility residents is a social concern for our aging society. The concept of abusive relationships, like that of August and Marlena, is also a concern in real life. The Ringling Brothers was a popular circus for many years. Animal cruelty is a societal concern, including in a circus setting. Animals in the entertainment industry are often of concern to animal rights activists. The movie version of Water for Elephants is no exception. Please see the below article regarding allegations of animal abuse related to the making of this movie.

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