Study Guide

Water for Elephants Men and Masculinity

By Sara Gruen

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Men and Masculinity

What does it mean to be a man in Water for Elephants? To Jacob it means standing up for yourself, defending those you love, and taking ownership of who you are. To August it means taking ownership of others and getting what you want. As different as these two men are, they share some interesting ideas about masculinity. Both believe in looking nice for important occasions, both recognize a beautiful woman when they see one, and both want the same thing (Marlena), which, ironically, neither of them can have. So even though we have two men with extremely different values, we see an expression of masculinity in both of them. (And yes, we realize that these men's violence stands out pretty sharply, but we have bigger fish to fry – violence is old news in this book when it comes to being a dude.)

Questions About Men and Masculinity

  1. According to the values presented in this book, what do you think it takes to be a real man?
  2. In <em>Water for Elephants</em>, how closely does someone's physical appearance relate to his masculinity?         
  3. Why do so many of the male characters resort to physical violence as a way of addressing their problems? Is this a comment on masculinity?    

Chew on This

August takes his masculinity and employs it in a negative way: he uses his physical strength violently, preys on those who are weaker, and tries to dominate everyone around him.

The person in the book who best embodies masculine traits is Walter: he's reasonable, rational, and honorable.

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