Jacob and His Decisions: An Analysis of Water for Elephants using Moral Criticism When writers focus on morality, they try to write with a sense of moral so they do not corrupt the audience of the book. The main focus is to keep corruption away from society. In the novel, Water for Elephants written by Sara Gruen, the protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, makes many moral judgments and faces multiple moral dilemmas that force him to decide what is right and what is wrong. Jacob struggles with the conflicts and possible consequences of taking in his friend Camel and hiding him.

Camel is one of the first people Jacob meets at the circus. He is one of the first to be kind to him and if it were not for Camel, Jacob would not have made it on board as a circus worker at all. Camels’ good deed pays off when Jacob looks out for him when he starts to get sick. Jacob pays a doctor with his fathers watch so Camel can get medical care. Him and his roommate Walter then hide Camel in their stable car to take care of him and protect him from being red lighted.

In chapter twenty-two, Walter talks back to a disappointed Camel by saying, “And you should be grateful we do, because what the hell do you think would happen to you if we took off right now? ” (Gruen 293). Jacob and Walter risk their jobs and their lives by putting Camel before themselves. These selfless actions put Jacob in a bad place once Uncle Al reveals that he knows where Camel is and that he would have him red lighted if Jacob does not help him, but these actions also show how Jacob has strong values and morals.

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Uncle Al knows Jacob has a secret affair with Marlena and wants to extinguish any problems on the train so his circus runs smoothly. Jacob struggles with having an affair with Marlena because he knows it’s the wrong thing to do but he also knows that it is wrong and harmful for her to stay with August. Jacob believes it is his responsibility to help and take care of Marlena because he loves her and knows she deserves someone better. In chapter twenty, Marlena tells Jacob that he should have accepted Augusts apology and Jacob responds by saying “He hit you, Marlena! (270). Jacob hates August for his actions and knows that violence should not be part of a relationship. Another moral dilemma that Jacob faces is when he walks into the stateroom, intending to kill August with a knife. His moral instincts force him to put the knife down because he knew it would not be right to kill him. When Marlena tells Jacob that she is pregnant, Jacob now feels even more responsible for her. He wants what is best for Marlena and knows in his heart that she should not be with the violent, schizophrenic August.

Jacob wants to help Rosie and does not want to hurt her because he knows that it is wrong and he feels morally responsible for her. Both Jacob and Rosie fear August because he hurts Rosie with the bull hook and Jacob wants to teach her new tricks without having to use physical abuse. Jacob dislikes August and “hate[s] him for being so brutal” (171). He knows that it is not right to hurt Rosie even if it does make it easier to teach her new things. Jacob faces many moral dilemmas and makes many tough decisions that put him in difficult situations.

He puts himself before others and sacrifices his own life making him a true hero. He follows his heart and knows what is right. Jacob lives in a corrupt world during a difficult time period and he tries his best to find the difference between what seems right and what is wrong. Gruen focuses on morality throughout the whole book and presents her message through the character of Jacob. Morality is important because it shields us from everything bad and corrupt that goes on in today’s society.

Works Cited

Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants. Toronto: HarperCollins Publisher Ltd Chapel Hill, 2006.


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