What are the main conflicts in Sara Gruen's novel Water for Elephants?

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wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several conflicts in Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.  The first major conflict for the character Jacob catapults him into a new life and thus creates the rest of the story.  Jacob must deal with his parents death.  They have sacrificed everything to help those in need and to send him to school.  Jacob realizes there is nothing left for him and wanders out into the wide world.  He ends up on a circus train and meets with a new set of conflicts.  Jacob must find a way to be useful and survive life with the circus.  He is far from anyone he knows and there are few around who wish to help him.  Once he is settled in as the shows vet, he still suffers from the internal conflict of doing what is best for the animals or trying to protect himself.  It is Jacob's choice to put the animals best interests over his own that attracts the attention of Marlena.  This is perhaps the most pivotal conflict of the story.  Marlena must decide if she will leave a bad marriage and follow her heart.  Jacob must decide if it is worth the danger and the risk to both of them.  Many obstacles including Uncle Al and August stand between the two lovers.  Even Jacobs friends are hurt by the growing relationship.  When Camel and Walter are tossed from the train as a message to Jacob, it sparks a uprising of the other circus workers.  The tension that has been building between August and his workers finally over flows.  

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Water for Elephants

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