Water for Elephants

By: Chris Williams


The author of Water for Elephants is a lady named Sara Gruen. She is the author of other novels such as Riding Lessons and Flying Changes. She writes mainly about realistic fiction and domestic problems that she feels strongly about, such as animal cruelty in Water for Elephants. She now resides north of Chicago with her family and abundance of animals.

Main Characters

Jacob Janowski

At the start of the book Jacob is telling his story from the point of view of his 95 year old self. He thinks back to his days of working on the circus and falling in love after his parents die. You learn through his story telling that despite being a grumpy old man today he once was a kind and caring man back in the day.


Marlena is a performer on the circus that Jacob works for. She is an enthusiastic and charismatic person, but is held back by her husband August. Jacob brings out the best in her as they work together with Rosie and figure out how to keep August pleased.


Rosie is the elephant that Uncle Al obtains after another circus went under. At first she is thought to be useless and stupid, but turns out that she only understands Polish. She bonds heavily with Marlena and Jacob, meantime taking abuse from August. She becomes the unsung hero of the book during the worst circus stampede in history.


August is a terrible, cold hearted man that suffer from schizophrenia. He is married to Marlena and constantly keeps her in fear. He is also Jacob's boss, and is in charge of Rosie. He constantly beats Rosie when he's upset, while Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie all hope for a way out.

Uncle Al

Uncle Al is the head of the circus. He is a cheap man that is always looking for things on a budget, and goes weeks without paying his employees. Uncle Al is constantly chasing a dream that he can't achieve, and hurting those around him. But eventually what comes around goes around.


Walter is Jacob's bunk mate on the circus train, and even though they aren't friends at first him and Jacob grow very close. Camel is the first person that Jacob encounters on the circus. He is an alcoholic that drinks cheap liquor not actually meant to be consumed. He comes down with paralysis, then Walter and Jacob have to team up to potentially save his life.


In the eyes of the late Jacob Janowski working for the circus were the best years of his life. After his parents' death he was presented with no where to go, except to hop on a train, which coincidentally turned out to be the start of the experience of a lifetime. He found love, hate, and bonded with an Elephant. But when it all comes down to it will he be able to overcome his main challenger? The main conflict that drives this book is Jacob coming to terms that the people he works for a truly evil. He struggles with doing what he believes is right, and trying to save his beliefs while helping others, and getting threatened with extermination everyday. Though he manages to do right in most cases it could bring his beliefs could be the end of him.

Significant Passage

"It's like Charlie told the cop. For this old man it is home."(331)

This passage is important because it represents the end of Jacob's journey. It shows that through all of his experiences in life the circus is the only place where he felt as if he'd belonged, and where he wanted to end his journey.

Who would enjoy this book?

This book would appeal t a large variety of people. It touches on subjects such as love, discovering who you are, and different types of cruelty. The subjects in this book are probably suitable for anyone from 14 to 99 years old. It really seems that everyone could enjoy and benefit from Water for Elephants.

Did I enjoy ths book?

I really enjoyed this book. I had a hard time putting it down and I think I finished it in about a week. It keeps you very interested, and makes you really have strong emotions toward the characters. I'd give it two thumbs up.


Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,
2006. Print.