Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great main dish of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
We sure do love us some Dr. Seuss, and so does Sara Gruen, apparently. Check out the epigraph:
I meant what I said, and I said what I meant …
An elephant's faithful – one hundred per cent!
(Theodor Seuss Geisel, Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940)
The choice of a childish rhyme from a children's book as an epigraph for Water for Elephants is an interesting one. After all, thisis definitely a book for adults that engages with very adult themes, language, and subject matter. So what gives?
The Dr. Seuss quotation is about "faithful[ness]," a quality elephants have in spades ("one hundred per cent," in fact!). The question of faithfulness comes up again and again in Water for Elephants. Marlena is supposed to be faithful to August but she doesn't want to be; he's a violent jerk who endangers her life. Jacob wants to be faithful to Marlena and Rosie, but he isn't always able to be.
Adultery is the epitome of unfaithfulness. Nevertheless, by being unfaithful to August, Jacob and Marlena find the best happiness they've ever known. At first, it seems like their unfaithfulness could destroy them, but ultimately it allows them be together and go on to be faithful to one another. Unlike an elephant, who might be blindly faithful, people have to choose when and where to apply their faithfulness.