About the Book

Book Protagonist: Jacob Jankowski
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance


Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen

Sara Grue in her matter-of-fact depiction of 'Water for Elephants', gives us a few quotes to note in this circus story.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is narrated matter-of-factly without fancy words or motivational quotes. Despite how thrilling the plot was, it was quite a struggle to find quotes from the novel. However, with a little extra effort, a few noteworthy quotes, mostly on the theme of aging, were found.

Old Age

When you’re five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are.  I’m twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It’s a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I’m—you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you’re not. You’re thirty-five. And then you’re bothered because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.

Chapter One

This is a catchy description by the narrator at the beginning of Water for Elephants. The character Jacob talks about the beginning of a decline in a person’s ability to keep track of time and age. In the quote, we see a contrast between the cognitive ability of childhood, middle age and old age.

The opinion expressed in the quote is that the mental decline associated with old age actually begins in middle age but one is often in denial so much so that it takes decades for one to admit it.

Even as your body betrays you, your mind denies it

Chapter One

Still talking about aging, Jacob expresses the dichotomy between the mind and the body in coming to terms with aging. In Jacob’s narration, the body is usually quick to betray a person’s age while the mind continues to deny it.

I’m like a piece of meat unearthed from the back of a fridge, suspect until proven otherwise

Chapter One

In this quote, Jacob was describing the routine check he gets from nurses in the old people’s home. In his opinion, the treatment he gets is so dehumanizing that he likens himself to a piece of meat. Jacob whose mind and body are relatively healthy for his age hates the way he is treated like an invalid in the nursing home.

It’s not so much that I’ve forgotten. It’s more like I’ve stopped keeping track.

Chapter One

This is an expression of the apathy and disconnection with events that the narrator feels as he ages. He does not remember his age because he has stopped calculating and trying to remember what year it is or his birthday.


The whole thing’s illusion, Jacob. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what people want from us.

Chapter Seven

This was August’s response to Jacob’s concerns about not having a certificate as a veterinarian because of missing his final exams. August was of the opinion that the certificate did not matter, what mattered was that the Benzini Brothers circus had a veterinarian which was good for appearances.

August was trying to tell Jacob how different appearances were from reality, especially in the circus world. But in August’s opinion, the disparity between appearances and reality is justified because it is what people want.

The show must go on

Chapter Fifteen

This was said by Uncle Al when he announced that the circus will perform despite the recent death of one of his performers. Uncle Al is a ruthless man that believes that business must go on, as usual, no matter the cost. His business ethics centers on profit over everything else including the life and welfare of his workers.


If you expect people to try to do things your way, you’re going to have to give hints as to what that way is

Chapter Eight

This self-explanatory quote is talking about expressing one’s needs especially if one expects those needs to be fulfilled by others.

The quote was said by Rosemary, a nurse in the home who is friendly to Jacob and indulges him. Jacob had said in exasperation that it would be nice for people to let him have what he wanted for once. While Rosemary was willing to do what it was Jacob wanted, she did not know what it was because Jacob was silent. Hence, she said that to prompt Jacob into actually saying what he wants.

Love and Fate

When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It’s fate.

Chapter Twenty-One

Jacob was asserting his belief in love and fate in this quote. He said this to Uncle Al who wanted Jacob to play a role in reconciling August and Marlena. Jacob, who was in love with Marlena and had no plans of reconciling August and Marlena, made that statement about himself and Marlena but allowed Uncle Al to believe he was talking about August.


But what I understand and you apparently do not as yet is that sometimes an individual has to make a sacrifice for the good of the rest of us

Chapter Twenty

Uncle Al was talking about the necessity of one to sacrifice and suffer for the good of others. This statement is ironic coming from Uncle Al who is a very selfish and unsympathetic person. He was insinuating that Marlena has to sacrifice her happiness and be in an abusive marriage just to ensure the circus continues to run smoothly.

Onyekachi Osuji
About Onyekachi Osuji
Onyekachi is a lecturer of Public Administration and a Literature enthusiast. After gaining accreditation in English Literature, Onyeka analyzes novels on Book Analysis, whilst working as an academic and writing short stories.
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