Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

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

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Water for Elephants is a love story, with a triangle at its center. Marlena is married to August, but she and Jacob fall in love. The conflict here is between fidelity and romance. Marlena feels obligated to stay with August, although she knows her heart is with Jacob. He, in turn, feels responsible to his job and to the older man, who is his supervisor.

This conflict is closely associated with that between the two men. August is in charge of the circus animals, powerful within his own sphere and proudly possessive. Jacob is well educated, with an Ivy League degree, but an orphan. Although he did not intend to fall for a married woman, by doing so Jacob has positioned himself in antagonism toward August.

This novel is not simply a love story, however. It takes place during the Great Depression, a time when people had great difficulty in finding and keeping work. This intensifies the conflicts between owners and workers. To make a point that he has power and the workers are dispensable,...

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