Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
With two narratives come two endings. That's right: bonus ending. And like many books, Water for Elephants sneaks in an extra ending or two, just for fun. Just when you think the story might be over, you get another little bit of narrative.
The story about Jacob's past ends first. He closes the narrative on a happy note, explaining that he and Marlena finally got to be together after August died. They adopted Rosie and a bunch of other circus animals, and they made plans to join an even better circus. When the 1930s portion of the story ends, Jacob and Marlena don't know yet what the future holds, but they're excited about it. And they've got a baby on the way – so in a way, their story ends with a new life.
This first ending gets a postscript of sorts with the book's second ending, when Jacob wraps up the events he's been sharing about life in a nursing home. During a conversation he has with a circus worker, Jacob offers some final hints about his life with Marlena: they had a great life and a huge family, and a lot of cool stuff happened to them. Then Marlena died, Jacob got stuck in the nursing home, and things went downhill.
There are only two ways for Jacob to get out of his predicament: die, or run away and join the circus. It worked for Jacob once before, right? So, at the end of the book, despite the fact that he's ninety-three years old (!), Jacob goes back on the road. He may not have a lot of time left, but he's going to make the most of what he's got. He makes the choice to be out in the world again, to take his life back. So even though it's the end of the book, it's a new beginning for our leading man.