Bookclub April 2011: Water for Elephants

Water_for_Elephants_April_2011 Bookclub April 2011

Questions on Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen


We will be discussing the following questions on the book on our forum on Tues April 27th at 9pm, 

or if you would prefer, you can just rate the book on how enjoyable you found it to be:-)


1. Water for Elephants moves between a story about a circus and a story about an old man in a nursing home. How do the

chapters about the older Jacob enrich the story about Jacob’s adventure with the circus? How would the novel be different if

Gruen had only written about the younger Jacob, keeping the story linear and never describing Jacob’s life as an old man?


2. Did the chapters about the nursing home change how you think about older people? In what ways are the doctors and

nurses condescending? How is Rosemary different?


3. In chapter two, the twenty-three year old Jacob starts his story by telling us he is 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?


4. When you first read the Prologue, who did you think murdered the man? Were you surprised by who the actual murderer



5. The book begins with a quote from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss: “I meant what I said, and I said what I

meant…An elephant’s faithful—one hundred percent!” What is the role of faithfulness and loyalty in Water for

Elephants? How do different characters define loyalty? (Jacob, Walter, Uncle Al).


6. Why does Jacob get so mad about Mr. McGuinity lying about carrying water for elephants? Do you see and similarities

of temperament between the young Jacob and the old Jacob?


7. In what ways is Water for Elephants a survival story? A love story? An adventure?


8. Water for Elephants has a happy ending for Jacob, but not for many other characters. Discuss Walter and Camel’s

fates. How does tragedy fit into the story?


9. There is an “us and them” mentality in the circus between performers and workers. How does Jacob bridge these two

classes of people? Why does each group hate another group? Does the circus merely mirror society in an exaggerated



10. Are you satisfied with the end?


11. In the Author’s Note, Gruen writes that many of the details in the story are factual or come from circus workers’

anecdotes. These true stories include the hippo pickled in formaldehyde, the deceased fat lady being paraded

through town and an elephant who repeatedly pulled out her stake and stole lemonade. Gruen did extensive research

before writing Water for Elephants. Was her story believable?


Rate Water for Elephants on a scale of 1 to 5. ( with 1 being ‘didn’t enjoy the book’ and 5 being ‘fantastic’!!!)




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