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Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Freedom and Confinement Theme

There are all kinds of ways of being trapped; it's not always physical. Characters can be restrained by physical bonds, laws, or words. In Water for Elephants, we get a little bit of everything in the trapped department: Marlena is legally married to August; Jacob is physically held back by people like Blackie and Earl; Al forces Jacob's hand by threatening Walter and Camel; the list goes on.

And then of course there's the confinement of the animals. This is a huge controversy when talking about circuses, and although Water for Elephants doesn't address it correctly, there is a subtle discussion. Shmoop thinks the takeaway is this: confinement (of animals and otherwise) is probably going to backfire. Think about it: Rosie actually uses her boundary as a weapon, pulling the stake that's supposed to tie her down out of the ground and using it to kill August. Yikes. Are there other times in the book when confinement turns out to be dangerous?

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Why does it take Marlena so long to break away from August?
  2. What would have happened to Marlena and Jacob's relationship if August hadn't died?
  3. Which character is most confined by his or her body? Why do you think so?
  4. Do the animals in the book have less freedom than the human characters? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Everybody in Water for Elephants is confined by something.

Forget the humans: the animals are the victims of confinement in this story.

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