What does it mean to capture the history around the characters in relation to Water for Elephants?
This is rather a broad question. One way of answering it would be to say that it is important, as part of understanding a character as fully as we can, to think about and consider the history of that character and what has happened to them in order to full appreciate where they are in the time of the novel and what factors have been responsible for making them the kind of people that they are today. One example would be to consider the character of Marlena and how we are told she met and married her violent husband, August. This enables us to gain a fuller understanding of her character and helps us to know why it is that she made the decision to marry August in the first place, when he seems to have so little to recommend him.
You also might like to consider how capturing the history helps us to understand Jacob better. The initial chapters that inform us about the loss of his parents and how he loses all his belongings in the world because of their generosity helps us to understand why he chooses to leave everything and escape, getting onto the next train without knowing where it will take him and being able to enter a radically new world from anything he has ever experienced before. Background and history is crucial for gaining a full picture of character.
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