“Water for Elephants” is an account by Sara Gruen that details various aspects of life as captured through Jacob Jankowski, a septuagenarian living in a nursing home. The story shows how Jacob, was orphaned at a young age during the Great Depression and later jumps on to a circus train by chance.
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He begins taking part in circuses which involve animals, performers and other misfits. He says, “ there’s no dismounting without going under the train I’m sure I’m going to lose it.” They tour different towns to perform. Jacob is deprived of his parentage when he learns that his parents have died in a road accident. He has to face life on his own as an orphan.
“The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield shows the education that Laura, a girl from a well to do family has to go through as dictated by norms in her social class. The short story details the experiences of Laura with the co –workers she has been left to manage because her family wishes to host a garden party.
Laura is given leadership responsibilities that she has never held before and this makes her nervous. Her experience is similar to what Jacob went through when he jumped on a train by chance to become a vet of circus animals. Laura has to be more accountable to her parents who have high expectations of her.
Jacob has to adapt from the life he has been accustomed to in an Ivy League university to face a future without his parents. His skills as a vet help him to acquire a chance to work with animals which opens his eyes to the world outside his school and home. Jacob gets acquainted with the lead trainer, August and his wife Marlena.
August is cruel to animals in the circus. However, Jacob’s deep emotional feelings cause problems after he falls in love with Marlena, August’s wife. This affair causes Marlena to split with August, an issue that affects the working environment on the circus train. Jacob and the love triangle that he is caught up in, shows the true extent of his passion, which drives him to fall in love with another man’s wife.
Laura comes from a family that values its high social status over anything else. Her life’s outlook is strongly influenced by what her parents have taught her. She has to follow class distinctions that her parents observe strictly. Her high social class attitudes influence how she relates with other people. Her parents expect her to interact with people who come from a high social class, similar to theirs.
She however fails to follow the traits and snobbish attitudes of her parents when dealing with workmen hired to work in her home. This is shown when she lets a worker place the marquee where he feels it would look good even after she objects to it. The workman remarks in a cheeky way, “….where it’ll give you a bang slap in the eye.’’ This shows that she interacts well with people irrespective of their social status or backgrounds.
Jacob has to choose between his love for Marlena and the compassion he has for his circus colleagues, as ordered by his boss, Uncle Al. Uncle Al asks him to convince Marlena to come back or else Walter and Camel will be thrown off the train. His love for Marlena grows, and she gets pregnant with Jacob’s baby. Uncle Al is shown as a conniving man, who uses those who work for him to benefit himself. Jacob has a close relationship with the circus animals because of the way he cares for them.
Workers who had been thrown off the train, join forces and attack it. They later release the animals from Uncle Al and August’s cruelty. Jacob and Marlena start their life together as a couple, after August is killed by an elephant in the circus. Jacob manages to come up with an effective way to reach out to Rosie, an elephant that shows resistance during training.
Laura cares about people outside her social class which is shown by her reaction when she receives news that their neighbor has died. Their neighbor, Mr. Scott dies in an accident while driving his cart. Mr. Sheridan and his family scoff at Laura’s suggestion that the Garden Party should not be held, in respect to the memory of their deceased neighbor. Her mother puts it bluntly when she retorts, “People like that don’t expect sacrifices from us.”
This shows how Mrs. Sheridan and her family value their own social status more than anything else. Laura is later sent to deliver a basket of sandwiches and pastries which had remained after the party, to their bereaved neighbor’s family. She is able to meet the family of the deceased and offers her condolences to them.
Jacob’s involvement in the story shows his ability to form strong relationships with others. He manages to stay close to his circus colleagues even though his boss is harsh on them. Third person narration has been used in Laura’s story to reveal more about her and people she interacts with.
Laura’s thoughts and actions form the basis of the story. She manages to show how race and social attachments played crucial roles in the lives of many people in the 1920’s. She also shows how social status has very little value in death. When she interacts with her bereaved neighbors, she begins to appreciate the value of life in all its forms. She manages to overcome stereotypes that influence how people of different social and racial backgrounds interact with each other.
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The plot comes to the present and shows Jacob, waiting to be taken to watch the circus by one of his sons. He has been married to Marlena and they managed to give birth to five children. Jacob, in the story shows that, it is possible to overcome difficult circumstances if you have the passion to do so.
He fulfilled his dream of working with animals later on when he joined another circus, before being employed as a vet in a zoo. Jacob’s manages to sustain strong relationships with animals and his family even though he was isolated as an orphan. Jacob helps the weak under his care to get a better life. He frees Marlena from her marriage with August and also manages to free the circus animals that were being brutalized on the train.
In conclusion, the two stories show the sacrifices people make to fit in a particular society. Jacob is able to make a positive life for himself even after the death of his parents. Laura manages to change her condescension of people with low social status.