Study Guide

Water for Elephants Chapter 2

By Sara Gruen

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Chapter 2

  • We're back in the past. Jacob is in a veterinary school classroom at Cornell. The year is 1931, and a woman named Catherine Hale is taunting him.
  • Jacob thinks about how he's still a virgin, even though he's about to graduate. He seems kind of ashamed of this.
  • The class is interrupted by the Dean, who pulls Jacob away.
  • Our narrator is worried that he's in trouble, but it turns out to be much, much worse: both his parents have been killed.
  • Just like that, his whole world changes.
  • Jacob has to go back to his hometown and identify his parents' bodies. The sight makes him throw up.
  • As you might imagine, he feels super alone. He ends up heading back to his old house, where everything is still set up as though his parents are alive.
  • One more thing: Jacob was supposed to be joining his dad's veterinary practice after graduation. Guess that's not going to happen.
  • Jacob is consumed by grief, and people from the church come to take care of him.
  • Later, he finds out what was in the will. Unfortunately, times have been hard and his parents died with hardly any money saved. His dad was too generous with people who couldn't afford treatment. It turns out that his family home and the veterinary practice are about to be seized.
  • Jacob has nothing and no one in his life. Ugh.
  • To make matters worse, he blames himself for going to an expensive college.
  • Jacob goes back to school but is totally out of it. He's almost finished with his degree, but he can't concentrate. During the final exam, he gets really stressed out and walks out without finishing. (Don't try this at home.)
  • Jacob leaves Cornell and wanders, not knowing where he should go. He ends up in a forest somewhere. This should be interesting.
  • Soon he realizes he's near train tracks, and a big train is about to pass by. He races after the train, jumps, and against all odds falls into one of the train cars – but only after cutting himself and getting all scratched up. Hey, he's lucky he's even alive after that stunt.
  • On the train, Jacob finds himself in a room with four guys. One of them, Blackie, attacks Jacob and tries to push him off the train. Another, an older guy named Camel, jumps in to stop Blackie. He takes a second to evaluate Jacob.
  • Jacob won't admit too many details about himself, but Camel lets him stick around.
  • After a few niceties, Camel suggests that maybe Jacob can get a job with the people riding the train – it turns out they're all part of a huge circus, the Benzini Brothers.

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