The major setting of this entire novel is the Benzini Bros. Circus, where the young Jacob chances upon a new path in life after running away in shock from his parents' sudden and untimely death. This circus is where he is hired as a veterinarian for the circus animals in the menagerie, though he did not officially obtain his diploma as a result of him running away the middle of his final exams. This is also where he meets Marlena, whom he falls in love with, and August, who is the husband of Marlena at the time and the main antagonist. The entire plot of the novel revolves around this circus and Jacob's experiences whilst involved with it. Not only was Jacob involved with the Benzini Bros. Circus, he also later became involved in the Ringling Bros. Circus, further showing how circuses in general were the constant setting and basis of the novel throughout the story. Back in the present with the much older Jacob, he decides to escape the confines of his retirement home and returns back to the circus that was visiting his neighborhood in which he resides. The novel continually circles back to the setting of the circus.



The second main setting of this novel is the retirement home in which the much older Jacob is reliving his memories, which we, as readers, find ourselves reading as a story. After the older Marlena dies of old age, Jacob is left as a 90-some-year-old man to fend for himself. As he already has grandchildren and possibly even great-grandchildren, his family had no time to spend taking care of him, and didn't even want to. For example, Jacob tried to move into his son, Simon's, home and asked, "Well, Simon, your house is large. Surley I could...?" (Gruen 140). After an accident in which Jacob supposedly breaks his hip, his family says,"But dad, they said, you broke your hip, as though maybe I hadn't noticed"(Gruen 140). This quote shows his slow deterioration. His family forces him to move into this senior home. This is where he meets Joseph Mcguinty and calls him a liar for saying he "...used to carry water for the elephants" (Gruen 13), and thus begins this novel to find out exactly what Jacob meant. This is also where he meets Rosemary, a nurse taking care of him and his senior peers. Unlike the rest of the nurses, Rosemary truly cares for him and earns a place in his heart, making life in the retirement home more bearable for Jacob.



The third major setting in this novel was the traveling train that brought the Benzini Bros. Circus around the country. Back in the Depression era, most circuses were traveling circuses, meaning these circuses traveled town to town, day in and day out to bring entertainment to the public. As a means of advertisement, posters were put up ahead of time around the town of destination displaying acts, "freaks", and basically anything that would pique people's interests in coming to see the circus. This setting is also very symbolic of the fact that people in those days had to be constantly on the move for life was very unstable. It would leave you behind stranded with no means of being rescued if you did not keep moving forward.