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Summary of Water for Elephants

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The story is told in a series of memories from Jacob Jankowski as a 93-year-old man in a nursing home. Twenty-three-year-old Jacob learns about his parents’ death in his final semester at Cornell where he is receiving a degree in Veterinary studies. He learns that his parents were deep in debt trying to pay for his Ivy League education. This was not unusual during the time period, The Great Depression in the United States. He breaks down and boards a slow moving train in the middle of the night. He learns later that the train belonged to the traveling “Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth”. He earns a job tending animals.



Jacob develops a precarious relationship with the head trainer, August and his wife, Marlena. Jacob falls in love with Marlena. August, a paranoid schizophrenic, becomes suspicious of their relationship and beats them both. Marlena refuses to be near August and stays in a hotel while not performing. This bothers Uncle Al, the owner of the circus and he summons Jacob to his quarters. There he threatens Jacob with the task of reuniting August and Marlena or having his two best friends and roommates “redlighted”*.



Jacob sleeps with Marlena and they declare there love for each other. Marlena is afraid of August, so Jacob decides to take matters into his own hands sneaks into Augusts’ room with a knife between his teeth. He backs down and returns to his car only to find it empty. He realizes his roommates have been “redlighted” and he was supposed to have been too. Subsequently, Marlena informs Jacob that she is pregnant.



The climax of the story occurs when several “redlighted” members of the circus return and let loose the circus animals. In the ensuing stampede, August is killed by Rosie the elephant. Unce Al is found strangled. The circus is shut down and Marlena and Jacob leave with a barrage of circus animals and start a new life together.



The story ends when 93-year-old Jacob uses his walker to get to the circus outside of his nursing home. The narrative reveals that Jacob and Marlean married with five children and eventually settled down, with Jacob getting a job at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Jacob acquaintances himself with the manager Charlie and begs him his way into a job at the circus selling tickets. He finally feels at home.




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