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“Man vs. Man” conflict appears in Water for Elephants between August and Jacob. August, the antagonist, and Jacob, the protagonist, clash with each other often. Their personalities themselves are polar opposites. August has a friendly exterior at times, but on the inside he is actually quite cruel and cold. He also has bouts of rage and temporary insanity because he is paranoid and schizophrenic. Jacob, on the other hand, is very compassionate and he is very honest. He doesn’t hide behind a pleasant mask; he is himself and he doesn’t try to hide it. It can be said that August is a liar, whereas Jacob is very truthful. They constantly encounter conflicting incidents, for example in chapter nine on page 153, Jacob tries to go to the Fox Brother’s menagerie to help take care of the animals in the sweltering heat, but August refuses to let him. Another incident that illustrates their conflicting relationship is when Jacob goes to convince Rosie, the newly bought elephant, to stop chewing on an old lady’s vegetable garden. He successfully leads Rosie back to the circus with help from Grzegorz Grabowski, a Polish worker who worked with elephants before. However, upon returning, August takes the bull hook used to guide Rosie with the intention of using it as an instrument of pain to supposedly teach Rosie a lesson. Jacob is horrified and tries to convince him otherwise, but to no avail.

Another major conflict between the two is Marlena, August’s wife and also showgirl who works with them in their circus. Both of them vie for her love, though they have very different situations. For Jacob, he cannot help but fall in love with her, for they have the same compassionate character. They both have a connection to animals and love them immensely. Jacob is an honest man, and he wasn’t trying to fall in love with Marlena since he knew she was married; he couldn’t help it. August, on the other hand, has a very controlling character, and he vies for her through trying to control her and what she does. His kind of love is skewed. For example, the quote, "'Oh', [Marlena] says. 'It's just Auggie said...'" (Gruen 251) shows that he once tried to convince Marlena that Jacob andthe "cooch girl", Barbara, were having some kind of affair when reality was far from the case. He did this to keep Marlena under his control and so she wouldn't go wandering off with another man, in this case, Jacob.

As a summary of Jacob and August's relationship, it can be deducted that they are polar opposites, but were thrown together by the hands of fate. At times, they seem to connect and get along, and others, the only connection they have is the abrasive seam of their inevitably intersecting lives.


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Water for Elephants is set in a time period where animals were perceived as stupid beasts unable to think or feel for themselves while humans sat on their high horse observing and molding the world like the gods they believed themselves to be. They refused to think of any other creature as equally intelligent, which shows how they were able to miss Rosie’s unmistakable intelligence and capability to understand and communicate with the world around her. She was undoubtedly aware of her environment. Instead of acknowledging her curiosity and intelligence, they claimed she was stupid and even punished her for it. In the novel, there is a scene where, “[Rosie] pulls out her stake, takes it with her, drinks the goddamed lemonade, then goes back and sticks her stake in the ground” (Gruen 276). Even something as obvious as when she figured out to escape from her restrictions, they refused to believe it. The only person able to see Rosie for the clever creature she really was, was Jacob. From the first moment Jacob and Rosie met, they created a bond that would help Jacob to overcome obstacles.

On the other hand, August was unable to understand Rosie and saw her only as a stupid animal. Throughout the book, August and Rosie battle it out through games of wit and pain. Every time August would try to get Rosie to obey, she would do something that portrayed her intelligence, and every time August would interpret it as stupidity and beat her for it. Everywhere animals are being overwhelmed by humans who are constantly trying to control them. The only difference between Rosie and other animals is that Rosie fights back. As a final act of both revenge for what August has done and also protection of the people she loves, Jacob and Marlena, “She lifts the stake as though it weighs nothing and splits his head in a single clean movement” (Gruen 395-396).


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Throughout Water for Elephants, there is a constant clash between Mr. Jankowski (Jacob at ninety or ninety-three) and the society in which he resides. Both his environment and the way society treats those his age renders him helpless and unable to be taken seriously by anyone, through no fault of his own. Society's perceptions of the elderly adversely affects him throughout the descriptions of living life as a ninety or ninety-three year old in the book. As seen in chapter eight, Mr. Jankowski is coming to the realization that anyone who visits him in his "assisted living" talks only of trivial subjects and clams up anytime something with substance comes in to conversation. "Mustn’t upset Grandpa," (Gruen 141) he describes his family members saying later in chapter eight. Society tries to protect the elderly by hiding its problems and putting on a happy face. However, this just discourages most of them because they feel they are constantly lied to and are frustrated at not being taken seriously, as though just because they look withered and old on the outside represents their incapability on the inside as well. Jacob remarks in that same chapter, "I hate this bizarre policy of protective exclusion, because it effectively writes me off the page." This quote shows his realization of this conflict between the rest of the world and himself, which sparks the battle to rip free from the fabrication of his nursing home.

In summary, Mr. Jankowski struggles with society and the way it treats him, constantly fighting the norm and trying to be treated with respect instead of senselessness.


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Throughout the course of the story Water for Elephants, there is a constant contrast between the older Jacob flashing back to his younger self. The older Jacob seems very bitter at life and very senile, whereas the younger one logically embodies the youth and joy of life. However, one characteristic flows seamlessly through both Jacobs: independence. As a young 23 year old, Jacob always had control over himself and made his own decisions. He clearly knew where his priorities were and did things as he pleased, not by someone else’s rules. The 90-some-year-old Jacob also has this defining trait. He fights to maintain a hold of his independence as much as he can, thus portraying him as stubborn and unpleasant to others around him. However, it is because of this lingering trait that creates his inner struggle with himself. He was always independent and capable of taking care of himself no matter what life threw in his path, such as the death of his parents, days before his graduation from Cornell University as a certified veterinarian. His strong-headedness remained with him all those years, but because of it, as an old man he is fighting against himself and his own instinct to do things himself. After he had apparently fallen and broken his hip in his old age his children forced him to go to a nursing home, though he refused vehemently, until, “…the enormity of my helplessness dawned on me, [and] my position began to slip” (Gruen 140). His failing body but his still youthful and unchanged spirit clash and create an internal struggle that pervades his retired life in his nursing home.



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