Study Guide

Water for Elephants Courage

By Sara Gruen

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Chapter 4

"Just shut it. I don't want to hear it. You're a good kid, and I ain't about to stand by and watch you mope off 'cuz that fat old grouch don't got time. I just ain't. So have a little respect for your elders and don't give me no trouble." (4.65)

Camel reveals his courage early on by sticking up for Jacob and finding him a place on the train. Camel defends Jacob in a way that he won't be able to later for himself. This effort makes Jacob loyal to Camel and helps prolong his life.

Chapter 5

There's dead silence in the room. I look around. All eyes are trained on me. 'What?' I say loudly. 'Is that so much to ask? Doesn't anyone else here miss real food? Surely you can't all be happy with this… this… <em>pap?</em>' I put my hand on the edge of my plate and give it a shove. (5.58)

Sometimes it takes courage just to say what's on your mind. Jacob lays it all out on the line here, declaring that the people in the home aren't getting good, "real food," and accusing those who work there of serving them "<em>pap.</em>" How much of an effect his protest will have on the home's staff is debatable, but at least Jacob has the satisfaction of speaking his mind.

Chapter 6

When the cat sees me coming, he lunges at the door. I freeze.

"What's the matter, Jacob?"

I turn around. August's face is glowing.

"You're not afraid of Rex, are you?" he continues. "He's just a <em>widdle kitty cat</em>." (6.208-11)

Here we get an early hint of August's personality. He's pressuring Jacob to go in and feed a lion like it's no big deal. But Jacob is brand new at the circus and doesn't have any experience with lions. August puts Jacob in danger and then teases him by saying that Rex is "just a <em>widdle kitty cat</em>." It takes great courage to walk into a lion's cage, but August is trying to belittle that courage.

Chapter 12

And most of all, I hate that I've let them [Marlena and Rosie] both down. I don't know if the elephant is smart enough to connect me to her punishment and wonder why I didn't do anything to stop it, but I am and I do. (12.154)

This is an example of courage that isn't acted upon. Jacob knows what he should have done – stop the punishment of Rosie – but he wasn't able to. He thinks here that if he were truly courageous, he would have helped her. He blames himself for not being able to help her and laments his cowardice.

Chapter 14

Walter stares at me, tapping his fingers against his leg. After half a minute of silence he says, "All right. Bring him on over. Don't let anyone see you or we'll all catch hell." (14.253)

Walter knows better than to help Camel when everybody's out to get him – to do so is to put all of them in danger. Yet he does it anyway. This is a big act of courage and, sadly for Walter, it doesn't pay off.

Chapter 18

"Yes. You can. Come on. Walk away."

I stare at the silent tent. After another few seconds, I tear my eyes from the billowing flap and walk away. (18.127-28)

Sometimes butting in to try to defend someone can do more harm than good. Here Jacob is forced to accept the realization that he needs to "walk away" from the situation and that if he pushes himself into "the silent tent" he'll just make matters worse for everyone. It goes against his every instinct to keep himself from defending those he loves, but at last he accepts that he has no choice this time: he'll just have to watch and wait.

I speak first. "Has he ever hit you before?"


"If he does it again, I swear to God I'll kill him."

"If he does it again, you won't have to," she says quietly. (18.203-206)

Marlena may not have stood up for herself in the past, but that all changes here. August has taken it a step too far by laying hands on her, and she has enough courage to defend herself and clarify what is and what's not okay. It's most definitely not okay for August to hit her. It's hard to see anything good in a situation of domestic violence, but the positive takeaway is that both Marlena and Jacob see that it's wrong and will work to prevent it from ever happening again.

Chapter 20
Jacob Jankowski

"I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell me that it's okay for August to hit her because she's his wife. Or that it's not his fault because he's insane. If he's insane, that's all the more reason she should stay away." (20.81)

Jacob takes an even stronger stand against domestic violence here, insisting that there's no defending August's abuse. He won't listen to any pitiful excuses Al might try to offer on August's behalf.

Chapter 21

He lowers his glass without drinking. I cock my head and keep smiling. Let him examine me. Just let him. Today I am invincible. (21.90)

Jacob gets through this situation on chutzpah alone, pretending everything's fine and that he's not secretly in love with Marlena. He thinks if he pretends hard enough, he'll seem "invincible" and fool everyone, even Uncle Al. Jacob buys in to the circus concept of illusion wholeheartedly here, and it seems to work on Al for a time. But Jacob can only pretend to be "invincible" and unattached to Marlena for so long – rumors are spreading through the circus like wildfire.

Chapter 25

I was never entirely sure whether Marlena knew – there was so much going on in the menagerie at that moment that I have no idea what she saw, and I never brought it up. I couldn't, because I couldn't risk changing how she felt about Rosie – or, if it comes right down to it, how she felt about me. Rosie may have been the one who killed August, but I also wanted him dead. (25.4)

This quote offers two examples of a lack of courage. In the first, Jacob "never" had the courage to tell Marlena how August really died. He's so concerned about this that he uses the word "never" twice. Because he didn't have the courage to tell the truth, he ended up lying to her for six decades. Second, Rosie ended up doing Jacob's dirty work for him. She did what Jacob couldn't, or wouldn't do: she killed August. Jacob benefited without having to live with the murder on his own conscience.

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