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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Love

Love is a driving force in Water for Elephants, and it's not limited to the love one human feels for another. People also love animals, and animals love them back. It shouldn't be a surprise that i...

Sex and Sexuality

Ooh la la. This is one steamy book. But it's not just all fun and games. Sex is actually a major source of anxiety for our protagonist. At first, he's an inexperienced virgin, insecure about his la...

Admiration

The whole circus business is built on admiration. See the amazing show! Look at the fat lady! Marvel at the elephants! The circus is all about superlatives, or extremes. To get the applause, the co...

Courage

You might say that every act in this book is one of courage. It takes courage to join the circus. It takes courage to fall in love. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, for what yo...

Freedom and Confinement

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...

Suffering

At the circus, everything on the surface is beautiful, exciting, or dramatic, but underneath there's pain. To get Rosie to walk on cue, August beats her. He also beats Marlena to get her to do what...

Men and Masculinity

What does it mean to be a man in Water for Elephants? To Jacob it means standing up for yourself, defending those you love, and taking ownership of who you are. To August it means taking ownership...

Old Age

For much of Water for Elephants, Jacob is almost painfully old. He can barely walk, it's a struggle to bathe himself, and many of his desires are severely limited. He thinks about fresh fruit with...
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