The Symbols of Pachyderms



In the following literary criticism MS discusses the significance of the historic symbolisms associated with elephants in the novel Water For Elephants. By applying the classical use of elephants to mean strength of females, strength of families, fertility, sexual power, and out of control masculine rage, Sara Gruen is able to further characterize and deepen the relationships between the three main characters: Jacob, Marlena, and August.

The sudden arrival, then constant presence of Rosie, an Indian elephant, in the lives of Jacob, Marlena, and August as they travel with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth during the Great Depression exposes the secrets and hidden feelings of the three main characters as they must train and performer with the pachyderm. Throughout history, elephants have come to be used as traditional symbols and associations; Sara Gruen uses this knowledge to develop characters and relationships throughout the novel.

"August smacks her from behind, and Rosie hurries a few steps forward. When August catches up, he whacks her again, this time hard enough that she raises her trunk, bellows, and scampers sideways. August lets loose a long string of curses and runs up beside her, swinging the bull hook and driving the pick end into her shoulder. Rosie whimpers and this time doesn't move an inch. Even from this distance, we can see that she's trembling." (140-141)

Sara Gruen uses the human-animal relationship between August, the circus's animal director, and Rosie to expose August's true demeanor; that of a cruel, possessive man who must, at all times, be in control. This compliments the historical symbolism of elephants meaning uncontrollable masculine rage. As Jacob witnesses the two interact, he is able to see August's true personality, one he was previously warned of, Sara Gruen uses this uncontrollable rage he witnesses to create a hatred of August, a catalyst for the romantic relationship between Jacob and August's wife, Marlena. Jacob no longer feels quilt for his longings nor tries to hide it because he doesn't feel anymore kinship or respect for a man with such a dirty soul. The constant presence of the bull hook, a cruel instrument for elephant training, is a reminder of August's hidden personality, even when he's putting on his facade- for the audience, for his wife-, his cruelty is always there, ready to surface at any given moment. "August sits nearby, in top hat and tails. He twirls a silver-tipped cane. Its handle is bent, like a bull hook." (231) Sara Gruen also uses his malicious personality she's exposed through Rosie to lead to his demise; "she [Rosie] lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon."

Gruen also uses Rosie's presence as a symbol of sexual power. The story is opened by Jacob lamenting of his intact virginity at age twenty-three; "I’ve lost track of all the times I've through Oh God, oh God, she's finally going to let me, only to be hit in the face with Dear God, she wants me to stop NOW? I am, as far as I can tell, the oldest male virgin on the face of the earth." (15) His virginity is further exaggerated at his first party after joining the Benzini Brother's, before the purchase of Rosie, as two "exotic performers" offer to be his first time, a scene that only ends in mortification, with his virginity still intact. His moment, though, comes in the climax of the story, after Marlena's empowerment and, of course, the purchase of Rosie. Gruen had previously used Rosie as the presence of feminine power to sever the marriage between Marlena and August. After Rosie's purchase, Sara Gruen situates the pachyderm in every scene that Marlena must have courage and strength after leaving her husband. Before Rosie's presence, Marlena was stuck in the relationship, as she states, "I didn't have much choice did I?" but after she finds Rosie, she is able to conjure up the strength to finally leave her abusive husband. Marlena stays at different hotel rooms as the circus travels, only returning for her performances with Rosie and to see Jacob. It is also in said hotel rooms where Jacob does not simply have sex, but he and Marlena make love. "Rosie stands utterly still, all four feet planted squarely on the ground. August's arms wave up and down. He swings the cane. He shakes his fist. His mouth opens and closes." (287) Rosie sets an example for Marlena to follow: she does not want to respond to August no matter how many tactics he tries on her whether it be threats or bribes, she will remain absolutely deaf to him. Marlena finds herself in a near parallel situation in the story, once she has left her husband, he, of course tries to win her back, "August is too far gone to be controlled.. he accosts her in the midway, drops to his knees, and wraps his arms around her legs. When she wrestles to get free, he knocks her onto the grass and pins her there, trying to force her ring back on her finger, alternately murmuring entreaties and spitting threats." August treats Marlena as one of his animals, trying to force her to do and perform as he wants, and in return Marlena responds in the same manner as his elephant: completely passive to his attempts.

"Marlena stares at it, wide-eyed. Then she crumples to the ground. Rosie fans her ears, opens her mouth, and steps sideways so she's standing directly over top of Marlena... in a matter of seconds, there are only three living creature in the menagerie besides me: Rosie, Marlena, and Rex. The mangy old lion has crept back into his den and is huddled in the corner, quivering." (310)

Besides using Rosie simply as an impetus for the love of Marlena and Jacob, Sara Gruen uses the elephant not only to protect but to fully symbolize the family of Jacob and Marlena. At the end of the novel, Marlena reveals to Jacob she is pregnant, right before going on to perform with Rosie. After another day of performances, chaos is let loose after all the animals somehow escape the menagerie, of all the major and supporting characters, only Jacob and Marlena survive, protected underneath their elephant. All of Rosie's past actions and associations have lead Jacob and Marlena to this spot: the exposure of August's true character erases Jacob's guilt about pursuing his wife; the strength of Marlena, found with Rosie, to finally leave August; the sexual power bringing together Marlena and Jacob, as they first fall in love over training Rosie, to the night at the hotel where their child was conceived. Now, as August lies dead by the deed of Rosie, Jacob and Marlena can finally be together, but they always take Rosie wherever they go, she above everything else, comes to symbolize their family.

(M.S. 2010)

Demise by Weakness, Redemption by Weakness



In the following literary criticism MS examines the contrasts in reaction when a human must deal with an illness he or she has personally experienced to one he or she witnesses in a loved one, as Sara Gruen displays through the contrasting emotional reactions to the near parallel physical illnesses the protagonist Annemarie Zimmer has experienced and now must watch her father experience. While her weakness leads to her own demise her father’s has brought forth redemption in the novel Riding Lessons.

"Of course I ran away. I left my parents and avoided them for years. We spoke occasionally by telephone, but I never visited them- I couldn't stand to be anywhere near Harry's empty stall. But it wasn't just the absence of Harry that kept me away. I didn't want to see my parents. It's hard to look someone in the face when you've single-handedly destroyed their dream." (319

If we are lucky in life, we get granted second chances. Life likes apologizing, and giving the opportunities to do so, though through human weakness, many do not seize the opportunity until it falls upon deaf ears. Sara Gruen exemplifies this in her novel Riding Lessons as the lead character, Annemarie Zimmer, must make her way back to her family's horse farm which she’s avoided since a tragic accident at age eighteen. Now her father has been diagnosed with ALS, suffering with many of the same physical ailments that she became trapped with sixteen years ago. This change of perspective has allowed Annemarie to see through the wall that has been dividing her and her parents since her accident nearly a decade and a half ago.

“You don’t owe him this. He loved you, and he knew that you loved him. That is all.’
‘He did?... Did he ever forgive me... For never riding again?’
Mutti stares at me in horror.
‘Pappa loved you. He was disappointed but he never blamed you.’
‘But all those years we barely spoke…’
‘You could not bear to be with us.’
‘That’s because I was ashamed of what I’d become.” (370-371)

Sara Gruen uses the two illnesses to create unspoken conflict between daughter and father. Often times in life, when assumptions are made, to the naked eye, they seem to project blame outward while in reality, it’s a self-deprecating black hole. After Annemarie’s accident, she fled her hometown, moving five hours away by plane, and worked as an editor. By never stating an exact purpose for leaving, Annemarie leaves the reason to be assumed that it was resentment for how hard her parents pushed her to be an equestrian star. In reality it was the heartbreak of her failures and the loss of her beloved brindled horse, Harry, which pushed her away.

Annemarie's personal experience with weakness lead to her demise, the choices she made following her recovery lead to her own personal catastrophe; a negative reaction for every choice she had made. After her fateful accident, a tragedy at an equestrian competition, she tried to escape from the life that seemed to break her, but in reality she was just masking every emotion felt. Her resentment for her parents for riding her harder than any horse they forced her on was shown to them as she married a man she did not love only to spite her parents, who were not fans of the boy. Instead of grieving the loss of her beloved horse, she fled her home, her barn, and anything that could remotely be associated with him, including her parents. She got a job as far from her past life as possible: she became a manual editor in Minneapolis. As she tried to cope with the fall of her stardom, she tried to fill her void with other things she pretended she wanted instead of having to face the truth. Instead of going back to her horses, her life, she distracted herself with a child; "being pregnant gave me a sense of purpose. I made me special again."

But Annemarie's accident and the repercussions of it all slowly lead to her demise. Gruen's first chapter is written in a monotone narrative of Annemarie's life being torn apart within one day: she is let go from her editorial position, her husband leaves her for a woman who reciprocates his love, and her daughter drops out of high school. The life she escaped to has failed her, though the monotony it is told with offers a materialistic attitude towards it all: her hard plastic life has shattered, and now she must find a way to repair it. In an unfortunate paradox, a tragedy offers her redemption; her father's ALS diagnosis gives her a better life.

"He doesn't want to be spoon-fed in front of the rest of us, as though it's somehow a reflection on him as a person. That's ridiculous, of course, but I also understand it, having been in the position of not being able to do anything for myself. And like Pappa, I hated asking for help."

After nearly a decade and a half away from her father, his illness now offers the two of them a new common ground after the equestrian bond between them years ago was severed after the accident, only leaving feelings of resentment and disappointment. Now Pappa's illness has presented an opportunity of empathy for Annemarie, and thus presented an opportunity for personal healing between the two of them.

"But what was I supposed to do? Ask his forgiveness? Give him mine? Tell him I understood why he pushed me so hard? (I don't.) Tell him I loved him? Maybe I wouldn't have needed to say anything. Maybe just sitting with him would have been enough. Maybe we could have come to some kind of understanding simply by being together. Then I have the most hideous though of all: maybe we already were on the same page, and I simply never took the time to find out." (277)

Returning to her farm to care for her dying father created a paralyzing fear within Annemarie’s heart. At any cost she would avoid making contact with her father, embarrassed, not of him, but of herself: she, of all of the people in her household, could empathize with her father, but she is consumed by shame, and cannot sustain fluid motions around him, “I manage to look Pappa in the eye a few times, but each time I do, I find an unbearable weight in the knowledge of his suffering and have to turn away.” Her own experiences hinder her from helping her father. She has isolated herself so far from him for so many years because she felt she was dead in his eyes after she refused to ride. Instead she retreats out to the stables, managing the farm so her mother can be the one to care for her father. It is after her father has already passed away that she learns that unadulterated honesty and a willingness to listen are the only things that can bring forth an understanding and forgiveness for the years lost from her parents. Through her lessons learned, she is able to come to peace with her mother, her daughter, and most importantly, herself.

In the end, Gruen puts a physical relationship between the aftermath of Annemarie's weakness and that of her father's. Like a decomposing corpse will go on to nourish a new life, Annemarie is able to take her personal "decay" and save the life of her farm: with the funds from her house sold in Minneapolis after her divorce, she uses her money to aid the horse farm she accidentally mismanaged while her mother cared for Pappa. Annemarie is able to close one door, and a gate opens.

"That one moment is long enough for me to see- for the first time, and with blinding clarity- that this is not happening to me. It's happening to Pappa." (211)

Annemarie's altered viewpoint of watching someone else deal with a debilitating illness is able to teach Annemarie strength and honesty, traits that help her finally overcome the negative qualities she developed when she was going through the parallel process, those of fear, secrecy, and avoidance or denial of emotional confrontation.



(M.S. 2010)





Water for Elephants: how Sara Gruen uses the two main characters to strengthen both the struggle over the heart of Marlena and the theme of love.


[In the following literary analysis, KB describes how Sara Gruen’s uses the characters August and Jacob as foils for each other in Water for Elephants.]

The two characters, August, a paranoid violent Equestrian Director; and Jacob, an Ivy-League, tender hearted veterinary student; greatly contrast each other and add to the struggle over Marlena in the novel and the theme of love in Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Before Rosie, the innocent, polish-understanding elephant, was introduced into the novel, August was portrayed as a gracious, charming man who did not attack defenseless animals or his wife, Marlena. However, when Rosie refuses to obey August’s commands simply because she does not understand English, August’s malicious and brutal side starts to unearth itself. August’s relatively genial façade is quickly washed away from the start when Rosie does not walk to her elephant car, “August lets loose a long string of curses and runs up beside her, swinging the bull hook and driving the pick end into her shoulder. Rosie whimpers and this time doesn’t move an inch” (140-141). This isn’t the last time August takes his anger out on Rosie. When Rosie is first used in the circus act she runs away and accidentally hurts Marlena in the process, and August ruthlessly beats her again. Still, this isn’t the last time August shows his brutality. The last time August beats Rosie is when she steals the lemonade because she has a sweet tooth, this is also the most cold-hearted and brutal, “despite this, the distraught listeners could still make out the hollow thud of the bull hook hitting flesh, again and again and again” (223). Jacob, on the other hand, loves Rosie and would never do anything to hurt her. During his first encounter with Rosie he falls in love with her, “her windsail of an ear moves forward and then back, and the trunk returns. I touch it tentatively, and then stroke it. I am entirely enamored,” (139). Jacob also shows compassion towards the other animals in the circus, something that August never showed. Jacob feels such compassion towards Rosie that after August beats her he feels compelled to make it up to her, so he brings her alcohol, one of Rosie’s favorite drinks, “Greg cocks his head thoughtfully and turns to Rosie, who is already smiling and reaching for the bottles” (228). Another moment when Jacob shows his love for animals is when he has to put down Marlena’s favorite horse that was sick. After doing so, Jacob was distraught while August acted as if nothing happened and unremorsefully used the horse as food for the big cats. Throughout the novel August is abusive and cruel, his ruthless and inhuman actions towards the animals emphasizes the stark contrast that is seen in Jacob and his love and compassion for them.

August and Jacob also differ in the way that they interact with each other. August is more confrontational while Jacob is quieter and thoughtful. In the beginning of the novel Jacob told some animal handlers not to move Marlena’s sick horse, and August viewed Jacob’s actions as an attempt to undermine his power. So to teach Jacob a lesson August brought him to feed a lion that has no teeth, although August did not tell Jacob that. When Jacob hesitates at the cage door August taunts him, “’you’re not afraid of Rex, are you? He’s just a widdle kitty cat’” (85). Through these attacks from August, Jacob stays carefully quiet and does not react to August’s taunts. Always after the taunting insults, August tries to win Jacob over with gifts or fancy outings. A clear example is when, after August gets angry at Jacob for stopping his work to say hello to Rosie, he attempts to make it up to Jacob by inviting him to dinner. August also constantly plays mind games with both Jacob and Marlena, trying to get them to confess about an affair that doesn’t exist, “’but do tell me, Jacob—how on earth did you two manage to get separated anyway? You were so… close on the dance floor’” (158). Jacob does not revolt against the anatomizations made by August, he instead chooses to ignore the jabs that August sends his way. August’s confrontational, and antagonistic character is another way that he is a foil to the more reserved Jacob.

The last way that August foils Jacob can be found in how they treat Marlena. August does not listen to Marlena’s protestations when he goes to beat Rosie, instead he “wrenches free and Marlena crashes to the ground. He looks at her in utter disgust” (215). August is brutal and heartless to his wife; he does not stop to think what his actions would do to her, he only sees one solution to his problems. Contrastingly Jacob thinks of Marlena and how his actions would affect her, Jacob comforts her, “she clings to me as tightly as if I were keeping her from being sucked into a vortex” (215). Not only is August heartless to his wife he is also paranoid that Marlena is cheating on him. When ever Jacob touches Marlena, August gets very territorial, “I glance over at our booth. August is staring with his arms crossed, seething. Startled, I step away from Marlena” (152). August is so paranoid that his wife is cheating on him that he threatens both Marlena and Jacob, “Because if I thought she was in any danger at all, there’s no knowing what I might do” (159), and eventually those threats turn into actions, “Then he shoves her so violently she crashes back onto the overturned platters of food. He takes one long step forward, leans down, and tries to rip the necklace from her throat. The clasp holds, so he ends up dragging her by the neck as she screams” (246). August’s paranoia and aggressiveness towards his wife cheating on him is a clear contrast to Jacob’s gentleness. Jacob is always there to comfort Marlena, “I’m still holding her, still rocking back and forth” (222), while August is usually the one causing the hurt and pain.

The use of August’s ruthless, paranoia prone, and cold hearted character as a foil to Jacob emphasizes Jacob’s gentle, loving character and his true love for Marlena. This use of foil emphasizes the emotional contrast between the two characters, as well as highlights the clear struggle over the heart of Marlena.

(K.B. 2011)



Ape House: social commentary on the modern day human-animal relationship.

[In the following literary criticism KB analyses the social commentary on the modern day human-animal relationship displayed through each character’s actions and thoughts towards the bonobo monkeys in the novel Ape House by Sara Gruen.]

“John hesitated for just a second, then said, ‘My apologies to whoever cleans the glass.’ As he approached, he saw Philippe swing his camera around to capture the moment. John lined himself up with Bonzi’s lips and planted a big kiss on them” (300).

Each character in the novel Ape House by Sara Gruen interacts with Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena, a group of Bonobo apes that speak fluent American Sign Language, differently; through these actions and social commentary Sara Gruen describes the different types of human-animal relationships.

Isabel, a scientist working with the Bonobos, and John, a newspaper reporter, both represent a healthy relationship with the animals. John, working on an article about the Bonobos, instantly respects and adores the apes. John even brings them presents when he meets them, and when he accidentally insults one of the apes he feels “as if he’d slapped a baby” (6). John even risks his marriage and his career to find the apes after they have been sold, just to take them to a better place. Isabel represents the part of society that truly loves animals. With in the first few pages Isabel says, “’we are, all of us, collaborators. We are, in fact, family.’” (10). Isabel’s actions clearly show her love for the apes; she treats them as if they were human, playing games with them and tickling them, “’over the years, they’ve become more human, and I’ve become more Bonobo,” (11). Isabel even jokes around with the apes as if they were human, acting as if she were offended that Bonzi did not like her coffee. Isabel also comforts them like someone would comfort a child when they are sad. After Isabel’s lab was blown up in an attempt to free the apes she constantly worries about the condition of the apes while she recovers in her hospital bed. Isabel loves the apes so much that she makes it her mission to make sure that they are safe and unharmed. Both Isabel and John represent the part of modern day society that realizes that these animals should be treated with the utmost respect and love.

Other characters in this book are the animal rights activists. These characters range from being less aggressive to very aggressive in their fight for animal rights. A few of the more passive animal rights activists are the ones that stand outside of Isabel’s lab, “there had been a gaggle of protestors outside the gates everyday for almost a year, silently holding placards that showed great apes undergoing terrible procedures” (18). Gruen also includes some extremist animal rights groups in her novel, such as the ELL or the Earth Liberation League, a terroristic animal rights group. This group is the one that blew up the Lab, in order to “free” the apes, the ELL also created a threatening video to stop the “sick and evil” research from continuing. This extreme solution backfired and resulted in the Bonobos being sent to worse living conditions. Also, the ELL called the scientists working with the Bonobos in the lab “’Agents of Horror’” (61). Another animal rights activist group that Gruen portrays in her novel is one that is far less misguided. People Against the Exploitation of Great Apes, PAEGA, helps Isabel save the Bonobos from a television company’s mistreatment. Generally speaking, most animal rights activist’s actions are meant to help the Bonobos, although most of them hurt the apes in the process. Through these characters Gruen portrays the part of modern day society that try to help animals, both passive and extremist, and she portrays the part of society that succeeds in fighting for animals’ civil rights.

The last type of interaction that Gruen portrays is the group that uses animals for their own personal gain. After the apes have been sold they go to Ken Faulks, a CEO of a reality TV show featuring these apes, through his interactions with them it is evident that he does not care about them other than how much money he can get from the TV show. Faulks keeps the Bonobos in cages away from each other, “Nobody could see Mbongo, but they knew he was there. […] the strain of this situation was clear in his vocalizations” (79). Faulks does not feed them right either, instead he feeds them “tasteless pallets” (79). Faulks also asserts his dominance over the apes by intimidating them, “on his way past, he double-whacked the front of Sam’s cage with an open palm. The clash reverberated through the cement hall, and Sam shrank into a corner” (80). Faulks only cares about what he can get out of the show, and while discussing ratings he says, “’and in the press release mention that we now have a bona fide ape expert on staff, because our greatest concern is the health and welfare and blah blah blah…’ he sat back and stirred the air beside his head. ‘You know the drill’” (195) so he can get more people to watch it. Faulks uses the apes for his own gain in his TV show, and he doesn’t care how the Bonobos are treated. Another group that Gruen portrays in her novel is a research facility that abuses and tortures various types of apes for different types of scientific research.

“The chimpanzees were mostly quiet, huddled in the corners of their barren cages. A few rush to the front and displayed, shaking the chain link with hands and feet and splattering Isabel and Rose with water, urine, spit, and worse. Their angry screeches echoed down the hall, amplifying the silence of the others. Most of the quiet ones had their heads turned to the wall, but the ones who faced forward looked through Isabel and Rose with deadened eyes. Their bodies were present, but their spirits gone. A couple had metal bolts coming from the tops of their skulls. Several were missing fingers and toes” (130).

This research facility tortures these animals to test out various drugs and other things such as dental implant techniques. Gruen portrays through these characters the part of modern day society that has no compassion for animals at all and will use them for their own gain, no matter what the cost. Gruen includes both media and entertainment, and abusive research facilities.

Sara Gruen’s use of characters to create social commentary paints a chilling scene of modern day society’s relationships with animals.

(K.B. 2011)



First impressions--a pattern of identifying humanity's flaws in Ape House
Through the proceeding article, MG dissects first impressions and their contribution to the development of flaw as a natural quality of humanity.
Examples of presumptuous notions adapted by humans and applied to fellow members of society are rich throughout Ape House. Contrasted to the more perceptive and understanding nature of the bonobos, the preliminary responses and judgments made by human characters reflect the inescapable capacity for error that is an innate feature of humanity. This is not to say that the bonobos represent pure, faultless creatures, but rather that they’re sense of intuition is strong where ours frequently cracks under the expectations of modern culture, resulting in hypercritical assessments of petty matters.

An early encounter with presumptuous thinking is practiced by both sets of opposing human characters.
‘Try to run over some protestors while you’re at it,’ Isabel said. ‘There’s nobody out there,’ said Celia. ‘Really?’ said Isabel. There had been a gaggle of protestors outside the gates every day for almost a year, silently holding placards that showed great apes undergoing terrible procedures. Since the protestors obviously had no clue as to the nature of the work being done at the language lab, Isabel always ignored them. .. ‘Larry-Harry-Gary and Green-Haired Freaky Dude were there before dinner but they were gone when I went out for a smoke.’ … ‘And I have nothing against his hair color. I just think he, himself, is an asshat’ (Gruen 18-19).
Understandably, Isabel and Celia are defensive of their work and of the language lab, as they take great care to ensure the safety and happiness of the apes. However, it is conspicuous that they are extremely harsh and judgmental towards the physical appearances and motives of the protestors who are ignorant towards the reality that the Bonobos are not mistreated at the language facility. Without even acquainting themselves with the protestors, Isabel and Celia utilize their first, negative impressions to hastily label the protestors as “freaks” and “asshats”.

Within this previous passage is another incorrect assumption, this time established by the protestors, based solely on their initial impression of the language lab. The protestors fail to familiarize themselves with the researchers or the nature of the work they are performing. This satirically reflects society, as many people are complacent to formulate their opinion based only on the limited understanding of someone or something that is obtained during an ephemeral first impression. These initial notions contribute to the novel’s larger acknowledgement of a major flaw of humanity: our failure to seek understanding of one another. The frequent and descriptive first impressions in Ape House emphasize society’s tendency for ill conceived perceptions of a person’s true character. Rather than analyzing a person’s actions, attitude and morals over an extended time, our culture demands instant gratification, as we increasingly evaluate each other’s appearance and other petty traits.

Other first impressions support the theme of our society having relatively poor intuition. Society as a whole is unable to discern good moral character from bad intentions upon brief evaluation. This can be witnessed in a scenario when Isabel realizes that her fiancé is a terrible person compared to her impression of him, as she allowed her original attraction, his surface appearance, and false confidence to overshadow his previous cruelty towards animals, unfaithfulness, and deeper moral flaws. “She had fallen in love with a kidnapper, torturer, and murderer. She had opened herself up to him, made love with him, had been preparing to share her life with him, even to bear his children. He had told her what he wanted her to believe about his work, and naively, she’d believed it” (138). Isabel’s incorrect perception of who Peter was as a person highlights society’s general shortcoming in identifying more in a person that just what one can distinguish from a first impression. “They were vultures, every one of them—it would be a matter of choosing the least terrible, and after Peter, Isabel had no faith in her own judgment” (210).

Finally, this theme is confirmed by the more precise first impressions of an alternate “culture,” --the bonobos. In one incident, the bonobos identified and reacted to danger prior to Isabel, who remained unconvinced of the looming harm.
As one, the bonobos turned to face the hallway. ‘What is it?’ Isabel looked from face to face, puzzled. VISITOR, signed Bonzi. The rest of the apes remained motionless, their eyes trained on the door. ‘No, not a visitor. The visitors left. The visitors are gone,’ said Isabel. The apes continued to stare down the hallway. Sam’s hair rose until it stood on end, and a prickling like tiny spiders crept over Isabel’s neck and scalp. She rose and muted the TV. Finally she heard it—a muffled rustling… The explosion blasted the door entirely out of its frame (20-21).

Unlike humans, the bonobos are willing to trust their intuition, rather than the meager trends of society, to determine when something is wrong.
In conclusion, the repeated inclusion of first impressions in Ape House contributes to the theme that human judgment is not a perfected capability, nor is it always reliable, and this is a reality of humanity that must be accepted. Just as the bonobos utilize their acute instincts in detecting danger, our society must interact with a focus on trusting intuition and examining moral behavior rather than primary appearance or charisma. Finally, the main character’s thought summarizes this theme, “Although wary of her own reaction to human beings, Isabel trusted the bonobos implicitly, and they adored Celia” (63).
(M.G. 2012)


Water for Elephants: Sympathy in the face of difficulty
In the following piece, M.G. analyzes a discrete but frequent motif of sympathy that has an important role in developing the characters and contributing to a theme of the capacity for moral goodness, even in the most unlikely scenarios.
With the setting of the novel frequently shifting from what readers would consider the “mundane” modern day to the chaotic, anxious period of the 1930s, it may be rather simple for one to overlook the rare gem that is sympathy. Sympathy is not an especially conspicuous trait in Water for Elephants; however, this discrete motif contributes significantly to the reader’s relation to the characters, as well as validating the theme of acting in good faith despite all forces that urge one to do otherwise. Sympathy is garnered from the reader, as well as being generated by the characters’ compassion for both people and animals. This inspires acts of mercy and kindness, ultimately enhancing the theme that there is always potential to embody high moral standards, even when the rest of society seems to behave with despair.

Jacob’s description of his current life in the assisted living home engulfs the reader with an unavoidable sense of pity as he so consciously ages and fades farther from his vivid, passionate past. This early tone of sympathy invests the reader in the character, making the experience of Jacob’s parents’ sudden deaths even more devastating. After being orphaned, and informed that he is left without any financial means, or even a home, Jacob would justifiably be overcome with distress, however, his surprising ability to cycle forth sympathy for others rather than solely for himself, conveys the previously identified theme. In this scenario, Jacob displays compassion for both Silver Star, a suffering injured horse, and Marlena who is wrought with emotional pain at the loss of her animal companion.
‘He’s worse,’ Marlena says without looking at me. After a moment I say, ‘Yes.’ ‘Is there any chance he’ll recover? Any chance at all?’ I hesitate, because what’s on the tip of my tongue is a lie and I find I can’t utter it. ‘You can tell me the truth,’ she says. ‘I need to know.’ ‘No. I’’m afraid there’s no chance at all.’ She lays a hand on his neck, holding it there. ‘In that case, promise me it will be quick. I don’t want him to suffer.’ I understand what she’s asking me, and shut my eyes. ‘I promise’ (Gruen 99).
Encountering someone who is dealing with loss emotionally and physically pains Jacob, and he offers sympathy in whatever means he is capable of, even if it means the burden of more torment on his part. ‘Is that the first time you’ve shot a horse?’ he says, plucking the cigarette from the package with his teeth. ‘No. But it doesn’t mean I like it’ (103). In doing so, Jacob spares the horse from elongated pain, and Marlena from experiencing a long process of torment as Silver Star’s condition worsened. ‘You better find Marlena, too.’ ‘I thought you said she knew?’ ‘She does. But I don’t want her to be alone when she hears that shot. Do you?’ (102). Overcoming personal ache, Jacob’s sympathetic actions reveal that good still exists in even a rough and seemingly hopeless era.

Jacob again acts with selfless empathy for the pain of others, in a time where people were easily jaded from the unfortunate events of the Great Depression that seemed to plague their lives. He goes to the extent of selling one of his only possessions and remnant of his parents.
The doctor holds my father’s pocket watch in his pudgy hand, turning it over and inspecting it through his pince-nez. He pops it open to examine the face. “Yes. This will do. So, what is it then?” he says, slipping it into his vest pocket. .. As soon as we’re outside the doctor turns to me. “So where are we going to perform this examination?” “It’s not me. It’s a friend of mine. He’s having problems with his feet and hands. And other stuff. He’ll tell you when we get there.” “Ah,” says the doctor. “Mr. Rosenbluth led me to believe that you were having difficulties…” (189).
Even the doctor is taken back by Jacob’s consistent willingless to act in the interest of others, and with understanding sympathy.

This pattern of sympathy is continued by the kind actions of Rosemary, the nurse that recognizes the sadness and isolation Jacob is experiencing in his elderly years. Regardless of the bitter attitude he hurls at her, she persistently responds in a sweet, loving, and compassionate manner, underlining a theme that even in a corrupt, damaged world, good morals can still shine through.
But dangnammit, here she is. “Now don’t tell anyone,” she says, bustling in.. She sets down a paper napkin, plastic fork, and a bowl of fruit that actually looks appetizing, with strawberries, melon, and apple. “I packed it for my break. I’m on a diet. Do you like fruit, Mr. Jankowski?” I would answer except that my hand is over my mouth and it’s trembling. Apple, for God’s sake. She pats my other hand and leaves the room, discretely ignoring my tears. I slip a piece of apple into my mouth, savoring its juices.

These numerous acts of sympathy and compassion towards other people and animals portray the goodness in individuals, even when they are faced with troubles of their own, an understated yet important theme of Water for Elephants.
(M.G. 2012)