Water for Elephants
Old Age Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
I try to brush the hairs flat with my hand and freeze at the sight of my old hand on my old head. I lean close and open my eyes very wide, trying to see beyond the sagging flesh.
It's no good. Even when I look straight into the milky blue eyes, I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me? (8.76-77)
You often hear older people say that when they look in the mirror, they don't recognize the person staring back at them. Inside, they still feel like the same person they were in their prime. This is what's happening with Jacob here: when he sees his reflection, the Jacob he knows isn't there. But no matter what he does, he isn't able to escape the old body he's trapped inside.
"Sometimes when you get older – and I'm not talking about you, I'm talking generally, because everyone ages differently – things you think on and wish on start to seem real. And then you believe them, and before you know it they're a part of your history, and if someone challenges you on them and says they're not true – why, then you get offended. Because you don't remember the first part. All you know is that you've been called a liar. […]" (13.68)
This resonant statement comes from Rosemary, the one person at the old folks' home who seems to understand Jacob and see him as a person rather than just some old dude. She understands what it means to grow older and how that can affect someone's memory, and she explains it in the most reasonable terms she can. Everyone forgets a little; everyone is tempted to rewrite his or her "history." We're tempted to ask: is this what Jacob has done? Did he rewrite his story or is he telling it exactly how it happened?
"No. About… Oh hell, don't you understand? I didn't even realize I was talking. It's the beginning of the end. It's all downhill from here, and I didn't have very far to go. But I was really hoping to hang on to my brains. I really was." (16.19)
Here's that phrase again: "the beginning of the end." Jacob uses it right at the beginning of the novel to talk about the moment when you first start realizing that you're aging. Now he's using it again to talk about memory loss. How many beginnings to the end can there be? There's only one end, after all, so if he keeps beginning it, is he putting it off in some way?