Study Guide

Water for Elephants Chapter 17

By Sara Gruen

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Chapter 17

  • Back in the past, Jacob listens as Marlena reveals how she got involved with the circus and with August to begin with. We're psyched to hear this, actually.
  • When Marlena was a teenager, her family tried to marry her off. Then one day, she went to the circus and somehow fell under August's spell. After just a few more meetings, August had convinced her to marry him, and Al had pushed her to join the circus. And the rest is (sad) history.
  • Marlena finishes her story and cries. They're both incredibly sad because they want to be together, but know that it's not possible.
  • Jacob then finds out that August has beat Rosie brutally.
  • He goes back to his quarters and talks with Walter and Camel about how much August sucks. Agreed.
  • Jacob gets Camel some food and Walter gets him some liquor. Jacob asks permission to take the liquor to someone "female" (17.65). Interesting. Camel doesn't like the idea, but Walter agrees.
  • It turns out Jacob wants to take the liquor to Rosie, to apologize for not being able to protect her from August. Nothing that a little apology present can't fix.
  • He goes to find Rosie and sees that Greg (remember him?) is taking care of her. Jacob hangs out with them for a while and then has an epiphany: Rosie understands Polish. That means they'll be able to train her after all. Awesome.
  • Jacob exuberantly embraces Greg and they arrange for Rosie to have the liquor. Celebration!
  • After that, everything changes. Jacob helps August start training Rosie using Polish. With the new technique, August seems like a different person – sweet to Rosie and Marlena. Jacob doesn't really know what to make of this, except he sure doesn't trust August.
  • At the same time, Jacob worries that maybe he's just let his jealousy affect the way he thinks of August. (Nah, we don't trust him either, Jake.)
  • The circus keeps traveling, as it does. Jacob visits a priest and tries to get absolution for his adulterous thoughts, but it doesn't seem to work very well.
  • He, Walter, and Camel seem to be drifting apart. Camel is becoming more and more of a burden, and Jacob's relationship with Walter is strained. Friendship is tough.
  • Rosie is finally ready to perform in the Big Top, which makes Al incredibly happy.
  • August brings Jacob and Marlena together for a little speech where he praises them and Rosie and puts a positive spin on everything that's happened so far. In a way, August is rewriting history.
  • Then he gives each of them a gift: Marlena gets a diamond necklace and Jacob a watch to replace his old one. Wow, this seems unusually generous.
  • Marlena has even created a special headdress for Rosie to wear in the act.
  • Jacob tries to pretend that August and Marlena aren't married or in love, but it's getting harder and harder.
  • That night, the circus performs to a full house. Jacob and August watch Marlena and Rosie perform together for the first time.
  • The two ladies waltz together and do tricks (normal circus stuff, like standing on balls). They crowd eats it up.
  • The act is pretty funny, actually, and it's a screaming success.

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