Study Guide

Water for Elephants Chapter 1

By Sara Gruen

Chapter 1

  • Now Jacob is in his 90s and living in a nursing home. This might be one of the oldest narrators we've ever had.
  • He thinks to himself about the messy problems of aging. He doesn't like being old.
  • Most of the other tenants in the home are women who mildly annoy him. It turns out he's there because he broke his hip. He gets out of his wheelchair and tries to walk down the hall with his walker, but it takes forever.
  • He makes it to the window, where he sees a circus tent being raised. This alarms him, and before he can help it, everyone is rushing to his aid, even though he doesn't want it.
  • Later, at dinner, Jacob is grossed out by the food. The nursing home doesn't serve what he considers to be real food, so he thinks about what he would really like to eat.
  • He listens to everyone at the table talk about the circus and how cool it looks.
  • The others at the table reminisce about circuses in the old days. One guy who's new to the home, Joseph McGuinty, claims that he "used to carry water for the elephants" (1.40).
  • This doesn't sit well with Jacob. He calls him a liar, and they both get really worked up.
  • One of the nurses, Rosemary, makes Jacob go back to his room. While they're in there, Jacob briefly tells her about his past with circuses.
  • Rosemary takes pity on him and gives him some fruit: mmm, real food. As Jacob eats it, he thinks about his dead wife and about the past. Well, this is depressing.

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