Water for Elephants is a narrative of intriguing contradictions in a compelling plot about circus life that is both glamorous and repulsive. The main conflict is that of the employees with their employer Uncle Al who treats people cruelly, not paying them and "red-lighting them," throwing them off the moving train, when they are not performing as expected. Jacob Janokowski as part of the crew is involved in this main conflict.
In Chapter 22, Jacob walks atop the railroad cars in the hope of attacking August with Walter's knife, but instead leaves the knife by the man's pillow as a warning after watching August's face as he sleeps. Upon his return, however, he discovers that Camel and Walter have been among the red-lighted. After learning this, Jacob goes to see Earl, but the shocked Earl tells him that performers do not usually get red-lighted, so someone must have been looking for Jacob since Jacob and Marlena have been having an affair and August has become enraged about it.
Now, Jacob talks with Marlena about the events of the night and the ensuing danger. She wants to return to her car in order to obtain money, but Jacob cautions her not to do so. When she does not return, Jacob knows she has ignored his warning. Then, some of the red-lighted men return to take down Uncle Al since Walter and Camel have died from the redlighting.
In the middle of their meal Jacob and the others hear a particular tune known as the "Disaster March" which denotes trouble. They run toward the big top and find the animals in a stampede. Searching for Marlena, Jacob finds her and August standing in front of Rosie the elephant who stares threateningly at him. But, before Jacob or the others can reach August, Rosie picks up a stake and hit Jacob over the head with it. Marlena is in shock; Jacob grabs her and hurries out of the tent.
With August dead and Uncle Al in hiding, Jacob and Marlena are free to claim Rosie and the horses and the bereaved Jack Russell and to plan their future.