Study Guide

Water for Elephants Prologue

By Sara Gruen

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  • The narrator and some other circus folk are hanging out in the food joint while the show is on. Most of the audience is inside, watching.
  • A guy named Grady tells the narrator that he should be careful because a lot is at stake.
  • The narrator hears that it's almost time for his part in the show: the elephant act.
  • Suddenly, the regular circus music stops. When it starts again, "Stars and Stripes Forever" is playing. Grady immediately recognizes the song as the circus's secret code that something is wrong. Since these men are out in the food joint, they don't know yet what's happening.
  • Chaos ensues.
  • A guy named Diamond Joe comes by, calling the narrator Jacob, and saying that all the circus animals are loose.
  • Jacob springs into action, worried about two things: a girl named Marlena and the elephant. He heads to the animal tent and sees all these huge, dangerous animals loose and frantic. He sees some of them slipping into the big tent, where the audience is.
  • Jacob keeps looking, and then he sees her. At this point, we don't know who "she" is. He watches as she grabs a big iron stake and rams it through the head of a man who's been yelling at her.
  • Jacob can't do anything to stop it.
  • Then he pulls himself out of the memory. He tells us it's been seven decades since that whole ordeal took place, and he's kept the murder a secret the whole time.

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