Food for Thought:
1. In chapter two, the twenty-three year old Jacob starts his story by telling us he’s a virgin. From the cooch tent to the erections the older Jacob gets when being bathed, sexuality is woven into the whole story. Why do you think Gruen added these details? What role does sexuality play in Water for Elephants?
2. In connection with Jacob’s formal dinner with August and Marlena in their stateroom, Jacob remarks, “August is gracious, charming, and mischievous”. To what extent is this an adequate characterization of August? How would you expand upon Jocob’s observation? How would you characterize August? Which situations in the novel reveal his true character?
3. After Jacob puts Silver Star down, August talks with him about the reality of the circus. “The whole thing’s illusion, Jacob,” he says, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what people want from us. It’s what they expect”. How does Gruen contrast the worlds of reality and illusion in the novel? Is there anything wrong with pandering to people’s need for illusion? Why do we crave the illusions that the circus represents?
(discussion questions from the publisher)