Study Guide

Water for Elephants Love

By Sara Gruen

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Chapter 1

Although there are times I'd give anything to have her back, I'm glad she went first. Losing her was like being cleft down the middle. It was the moment it all ended for me, and I wouldn't have wanted her to go through that. Being the survivor stinks. (1.99)

Jacob loves Marlena so much that he's "glad she went first"; he wants to protect her from being alone the way he is. It seems to him that it would be less painful to disappear than to suffer through that. (Also, check out how he uses the same phrase to describe the feeling of losing Marlena as he does to describe August's brutal murder: what's up with that?)

Chapter 7

I'm marveling and not just a little unnerved at her stoic reaction when a strange noise rises from her throat. It's followed by a moan, and next thing I know she's bawling. She doesn't even try to wipe the tears that slide down her cheeks, just stands hugging her arms with shoulders heaving, gasping for breath. She looks like she's going to collapse in on herself. (7.131)

Marlena is so unhappy here because her beloved horse is dying. Shouldn't this be a "Suffering" quote? Marlena is "stoic" at first, but then she "moan[s]," starts "bawling," and then "gasping for breath." Sure sounds like suffering to us, but this is suffering at the hands of love. The two feelings often go together; without experiencing such strong love, she wouldn't experience such strong pain.

Chapter 8

Sometimes, when I'm in bed, I close my eyes and remember the look – and especially the feel – of a woman's naked body. Usually it's my wife's, but not always. I was completely faithful to her. Not once in more than sixty years did I stray, except in my imagination, and I have a feeling she wouldn't have minded that. She was a woman of extraordinary understanding. (8.45)

This may not be the most passionate quotation, but it's a quiet expression of love. To be "completely faithful" to someone for "more than sixty years" is a huge commitment. Odds are, there's a lot of love there after sixty years. And to say that your wife had "extraordinary understanding" is pretty high praise.

Chapter 11

It's impossible to describe how tenderly I suddenly feel toward them – hyenas, camels, and all. Even the polar bear, who sits on his backside chewing his four-inch claws with his four-inch teeth. A love for these animals wells up in me suddenly, a flash flood, and there it is, solid as an obelisk and viscous as water. (11.40)

One neat thing about this book is how much love the human characters have for animals. You hear about animals being mistreated at circuses, and certainly that's shown in the book through characters like August. But for every individual like him there's someone like Jacob, who cares for animals so "tenderly" that he feels like he's overflowing with love for them.

Chapter 12

I hate him. I hate him for being so brutal. I hate that I'm beholden to him. I hate that I'm in love with his wife and something damned close to that with the elephant. And most of all, I hate that I've let them both down. (12.154)

Love is a strong emotion and one that's closely attached here to its opposite, equally strong emotion: hate. Jacob's hate for August arises, at least in part, because he's in love with his wife. He's also getting "close" to feeling love for the elephant that is technically is under August's supervision. Jacob might also hate August for other reasons, as listed in the quotation, but he probably wouldn't feel quite so strongly about August if he didn't feel so strongly about Marlena and Rosie, too.

Chapter 15

My heart pounds so hard that, despite the roaring of the crowd, I am aware of blood whooshing through my ears. I am filled to overflowing, bursting with love. (15.38)

Several times in the book Jacob compares the idea of love rising up in himself to a wave. Here he says that he's "overflowing, bursting with love." It's almost like love is a physical thing that he can feel moving through his body. It's not just an intangible emotion; it's almost like a foreign object sweeping through him. That might mean that he feels like this love is out of his control – it's larger than him and takes him over.

Chapter 20

She talks of the pain, grief, and horror of the past four years; of learning to cope with being the wife of a man so violent and unpredictable his touch made her skin crawl and of thinking, until quite recently, that she'd finally managed to do that. And then, finally, of how my appearance had forced her to realize she hadn't learned to cope at all. (20.181)

It took the appearance of real love for Marlena to realize that there was no love in her life. She didn't know how bad things were until Jacob showed up and helped her understand what real love could be. The discovery of something so good made her understand that she could no longer cope with a situation as bad as her current one with August.

[I]t will never happen again. He loves her more than life itself – surely she knows that. He doesn't know what came over him. He'll do anything – anything! – to make it up to her. She is a goddess, a queen, and he is just a miserable puddle of remorse. Can't she see how sorry he is? Is she trying to torture him? Has she no heart? (20.3)

This is Jacob's version of August's apology to Marlena. The apology is full of hyperbolic statements of how much August loves Marlena, full of over-the-top praise, base "remorse," and intense pleading. Yet it all kind of rings hollow. Jacob, Marlena, and everyone listening know how August has treated her. If he really did love her that much, how could he have been so cruel? It's hard to trust anything he says to her.

Chapter 21

"Last night you said, 'I need you.' You never said the word 'love,' so I only know how I feel." I swallow hard, blinking at the part in her hair. "I love you, Marlena. I love you with my heart and soul, and I want to be with you." (21.10)

It takes a lot of courage to say you love someone, especially if you're the first one. Jacob emphasizes that Marlena has only told him that she "need[s]" him and so he takes a leap of faith to figure out exactly where they stand in their relationship. It's a very modern action for a 1930s guy.

Chapter 24

[W]hen Marlena pulled the blanket back from his hair and I saw that it was red, I thought I might actually faint from joy. I never really doubted – not really, and I would have loved and raised him, anyway – but still. I damn near dropped over when I saw that red hair. (24.4)

Jacob says here that he would have loved Marlena's child even if August had been the father. They were going to become a family, and that's what he had signed on for. Still, it might have been a little more challenging to love someone with August's DNA. Luckily the child has "red hair," which shows that he's clearly Jacob's.

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