Water for Elephants Questions and Answers
by Sara Gruen

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What is the theme of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen?

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Love is a prevalent theme in this novel.  It's all over the place.  Characters are in love within the bounds of marriage and without marriage.  Humans love other humans in the story, but humans also express a fair amount of love toward animals too.  The reader is shown both emotional love and physical love, which brings up another theme. 

Sexuality. I'll spare you the retelling of the book's steamy parts.  But what the book does do a nice job of is walking the reader through the main character's (Jacob's) changing attitude toward sex and sexuality.  He starts off as an insecure virgin, as shown by this quote:

"I am, as far as I can tell, the oldest male virgin on the face of the earth. Certainly no one else my age is willing to admit it. […] Not too long ago some of the guys on my football team paid a woman a quarter apiece to let them do it, one after the other, in the cattle barn. As much as I had hoped to leave my virginity behind at Cornell, I couldn't bring myself to take part. I simply couldn't do it."

He then becomes a sexually experienced man in his prime, and then the book finishes with Jacob as an old man reminiscing about "the good old days."  

Davidee1 listed old age as a theme.  I would agree with that.  Many parts of the book show Jacob as really old.  He can barely move, so he spends a lot of his time reminiscing about his exploits as a younger man.  The reader can see that his mind and emotional being are still completely intact and in line with how he was as a younger man.  Some readers might interpret that as encouraging about old age, but I don't think the book sells that attitude too well.  To me, it reads more like a carpe diem attitude.  Jacob lived life to the fullest, but also wishes that he could have done more.  I think the old age theme tells readers that we are all going to get old, so make sure you pack in as much fun as you can while you are able. 

"But there's nothing to be done about it. All I can do is put in time waiting for the inevitable, observing as the ghosts of my past rattle around my vacuous present. They crash and bang and make themselves at home, mostly because there's no competition. I've stopped fighting them."

There is no competition with those old ghosts of his past because Jacob is not physically able to live the kind of life that would enable him to create new memories powerful enough to compete with the old memories. 

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In addition to love, courage, and freedom/confinement discussed above, other themes in  Water for...

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jessica728 | Student

And, a lot of people seem to misunderstand this, but the theme of a book is a statement about life or human nature that is true in the story and true in real life.