Study Guide

Water for Elephants Admiration

By Sara Gruen

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Chapter 3

I grab a plate and scoop up a mountain of potatoes, eggs, and sausages, trying to keep from looking desperate. The scent is overwhelming. I open my mouth, inhaling deeply – it's like manna from heaven. It <em>is</em> manna from heaven. (3.60)

In hard times, even the simplest things can be worthy of admiration. "Potatoes, eggs, and sausages" may not sound that exciting, but for someone on the verge of starving, it's "overwhelming." Jacob may sound like he's exaggerating, but during the Depression, encountering such bounty would indeed be "like [seeing] manna from heaven."

Chapter 6
Jacob Jankowski

"Auggie says you're a vet." At the sound of his name, August spins around.

"No," I say. "I mean, not exactly."

"He's being modest," says August. (6.26-28)

Here, other people's admiration of Jacob's veterinary training gets him a job and enables him to keep it. Even though Jacob is trying to remain "modest" and tell the truth (that he's a couple tests away from being an official vet), that doesn't matter much to the circus people. Let's not forget, they're all about "illusion" (7.204) anyway. The buzz that a Cornell-educated vet will bring to the circus is more than enough for Uncle Al.

Chapter 10

Her windsail of an ear moves forward and then back, and the trunk returns. I touch it tentatively, and then stroke it. I am entirely enamored, and so engrossed that I don't see August until he comes to an abrupt stop in front of me. (10.137)

Jacob's early admiration of Rosie is already setting the foundation for his love for her. This isn't that different from the way his feelings about Marlena grow – from admiration very quickly to love. But unlike in his relationship with Marlena, Jacob can touch Rosie when he wants to (within reason) and doesn't have to hide his affection or worry about the repercussions.

Chapter 11

The door to the stateroom swings open, revealing Marlena, gorgeous in red satin.

"What?" she says, looking down at herself. "Is there something on my dress?" She twists, inspecting her body and legs.

"No," I say. "You look swell." (11.84-86)

Marlena may be practicing a little false modesty here. When Jacob stares at her in admiration, she wonders if there's something wrong with her appearance. She doesn't automatically assume that Jacob is full of admiration for her. Perhaps, though, it's dangerous for her to acknowledge something like that so early on in their relationship. (Don't forget, there's a jealous husband lurking in the wings!)

Chapter 15

More cheering, more adulation. Marlena spreads her arms in the air, turning to give each section of the audience a chance to adore her. Then she turns to Midnight and perches delicately on his lowered back. He rises, arches his neck, and carries Marlena from the big top. (15.37)

Marlena's act is carefully choreographed to acknowledge and invite "cheering," "adulation," and "ador[ation]." The act is designed precisely to bring out admiration: the more she receives, the better the act has done. But unlike the admiration Jacob feels for her or Rosie, this admiration is impersonal and based on performance.

Chapter 17

And then the shower of money starts – the sweet, sweet shower of money. Uncle Al is delirious, standing in the center of the hippodrome track with his arms and face raised, basking in the coins that rain down on him. He keeps his face raised even as coins bounce off his cheeks, nose, and forehead. I think he may actually be crying. (17.193)

Here is a scene in which admiration takes on a physical form. The crowd's admiration for the circus turns into money, which is then "shower[ed]" and "rain[ed]" down on Uncle Al. Funny, too, that money turns into a "shower" and a fall of "rain" for Al, when Jacob describes himself overflowing with love by using the same watery metaphor. How can water represent money and love at the same time?

Chapter 18

I regret saying it instantly. Not that she wasn't spectacular – she was, but that wasn't all I meant and she knew it and now I've made her uncomfortable. I decide to beat a hasty retreat. (18.11)

"Spectacular" is such a circus word. It's in the title of the Benzini Brothers' show, and it's also in that important passage where August explains to Jacob what the Benzini circus is not. (For more on that, check out "Symbols: The Circus," then come back.) Here, surrounded by a circus that is not "spectacular," Jacob emphasizes, "she was." Marlena outshines her setting; she's a star.

Chapter 21

In Hartford, a handful of patrons take serious exception to Rosie's non-performance, as well as the continued presence of the Lovely Lucinda sideshow banner despite the unfortunate absence of the Lovely Lucinda. The patches aren't fast enough, and before we know it disgruntled men swarm the ticket wagon demanding refunds. (21.110)

Admiration has its negative side, too. In this case, it's the fact that two desired objects are missing from the circus performance. The audience wants to admire Rosie and "the Lovely Lucinda," and they feel cheated when they are denied the chance. The circus has claimed that the audience will get the chance to admire them, promising more than it can deliver.

Chapter 23

In late morning, the Nesci Brothers Circus train pulls up on a siding next to ours. The sheriff and the railroad officials return and greet the general manager as though he were visiting royalty. They stroll the lot together and finish up with hearty handshakes and booming laughter. (23.9)

Sometimes people admire what they don't understand. The "sheriff and railroad officials" see the leftover Benzini circus as a problem. They don't understand it, it's cluttering up their town, and they need a solution. The Nesci Brothers come in and offer one. Because the Nesci "general manager" steps in and offers to solve the problem, the locals are overflowing with gratitude.

Chapter 24

"Mr. Jankowski, I'm going to get you into the show now before there's nothing left to see, but it would be an honor and a privilege if you would join me for a drink in my trailer after the show. You're a living piece of history, and I'd surely love to hear about that collapse firsthand. I'd be happy to see you home afterward." (24.44)

Here, Charlie shares his genuine admiration for Jacob's past, calling him "a living piece of history." Finally, after feeling alone and unwanted for so long, keeping to himself in the old folks' home, Jacob has met someone who appreciates his past and his achievements.

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