Monday, February 21, 2011

Water For Elephants - Discussion Questions

Discussion questions for the winter book club reading, Water For Elephants are found below. Respond to one or all of them, depending on what appeals to you the most. Also, with the upcoming release of the movie, please discuss what you are hoping will be highlighted.

1. Water for Elephants moves between a story about a circus and a story about an old man in a nursing home. How do the chapters about the older Jacob enrich the story about Jacob’s adventure with the circus? How would the novel be different if Gruen had only written about the younger Jacob, keeping the story linear and never describing Jacob’s life as an old man?

2. How does the novel's epigraph, the quote from Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches the Egg, apply to the novel? What are the roles and importance of faithfulness and loyalty in Water for Elephants? In what ways does Gruen contrast the antagonisms and cruelties of circus life with the equally impressive loyalties and instances of caring?

3. Who did you, upon reading the prologue, think murdered August? What effect did that opening scene of chaos and murder have on your reception of the story that follows?

4. In the Author’s Note, Gruen writes that many of the details in the story are factual or come from circus workers’ anecdotes. These true stories include the hippo pickled in formaldehyde, the deceased fat lady being paraded through town and an elephant who repeatedly pulled out her stake and stole lemonade. Gruen did extensive research before writing Water for Elephants. Was her story believable?

5. In what ways is Water for Elephants a survival story? A love story? An adventure?

6. Are you satisfied with the end?


  1. Sarah Johnson writes:

    I really enjoyed this book! It takes talent to smoothly transition between two different time frames- sometimes I think it’s distracting when a book switches between old and young characters but I thought she did it really well. I loved the ending as to me it seemed like Jacob had come full circle with his life and the circus. Also I noticed that they are making this into a movie so it was interesting to read the book first and see who they chose to portray the main characters. I really like the choice of Christoph Waltz as August but I feel Reese Witherspoon is miscast as Marlena. I always like to see the movie and compare the two versions, call me a cameo critic!

  2. This book was a charmer. One I looked forward to returning to.

    I think it was an adventure, a love story and a survival story.

    The version I had included vintage photos which were terrific and I have been to Baraboo to the circus museum and that helped my understanding. It is amazing to think of the scale of a moving circus. The Baraboo exhibit helped me understand that.