The Show Must Go On

I’m gasping for breath
Howling into splayed hands
serious depression
manifesting as aggression
The ground was vibrating
And I climb to my feet

Then I let myself drift,
because there’s really no fighting it
With fumbling fingers
The pills are already in my palm
before I notice it

That moment,
the music screeched to a halt
It’s as though I’ve been sleepwalking
and suddenly woken to find myself here
it slips away, like a wave from shore
And I continue walking

I staggered inside,
I walk until the edge of town,
In seventy years, I’ve never told a blessed soul
Because after all,
The show must go on.




In Water for Elephants, the theme of losing yourself in moments you treasured is recurrent throughout. Mr. Jankowski often reminisces consciously and unconsciously about his past days that seemed to never end, until all of a sudden he lost everything. In the first chapter, the reader witnesses a murder that Jacob had witnessed when he was younger in his circus days, one that haunts him even into his old age. “So long ago. So long. But still it haunts me” (Gruen 5). As children, we aren’t fully conscious of the world around us, and we don’t really have a grasp of the concept that once you live something, it cannot be lived again. As such, the older and more conscious we get to the fact that life is actually quite fleeting, the harder our minds try to hold onto the past. In his retirement home, Jacob wakes up to find his nurse, Rosemary, revealing to him that he has been mumbling his past out loud when she says, “Oh yes, Mr. Jankowski. You’ve been talking a blue streak since we left the lunchroom. Just talking my ear off” (Gruen 279). Jacob’s past was permeating into his present, showing how stuck he was in what once was. Not only does this statement reflect how Jacob Jankowski sometimes finds himself lost in his past and that his past finds ways of appearing in his present, it also describes how people can get caught up in the past, which blinds them from the reality of the present. In the novel, Marlena describes a fairytale-like marriage with August and how she fell in love with his charm. But then, their story takes a darker twist when August begins to hit her in his fits of rage. However, Marlena confesses that despite this, she never left him, partially because she still loved the charming August despite all his faults. Her past love for him blinded her from the fact that she should leave someone who was as abusive as he. Marlena had admitted to Jacob that she had thought she had learned to cope with August, but in reality, her initial love for him had made her deny the facts of her situation. Jacob recalls Marlena’s epiphany when he says, “And then, finally, of how my appearance had forced her to realize she hadn’t learned to cope at all” (Gruen 350). This theme statement encompasses the fact that many people cannot deal with change, and so in their denial they isolate themselves from their present reality and envelope themselves in their most cherished moments despite it being just an illusion.


The "Perfect Song" for Water for ElephantsTime by Pink Floyd


Ticking away the moments
That make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours
In an offhand way

Kicking around on a piece of ground
In your home town
Waiting for someone or something
To show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

And you run and you run
To catch up with the sun
But it's sinking

Racing around
To come up behind you again

The sun is the same
In a relative way
But you're older

Shorter of breath
And one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time

Plans that either come to nought
Or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desparation
Is the English way

The time is gone
The song is over
Thought I'd something more to say

Home again
I like to be here
When I can

When I come home
Cold and tired
It's good to warm my bones
Beside the fire

Far away
Across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell


Time, by Pink Floyd, is the perfect song to represent the theme of this book. It contrasts the young and the old and illustrates how time changes with age, just as in the novel. Lyrically and conceptually, time in this song is illustrated as something that you only notice when it’s gone. In the book, Mr. Jankowski frequently narrates his story through two perspectives, his younger and older self, just as in the song. His younger self is not concerned about the future, and like Time says, is “waiting for someone or something to show [him] the way.” When Jacob gets older, he looks back at his life and moments he has rooted himself and wishes he could do it over again. This concept is displayed in these lyrics, “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you,” where Mr. Jankowski realizes moments are moving much faster than he wants them to. The mood of this song also exemplifies the sudden sense of urgency when the realization comes that time is passing too fast. Time starts out with a slow, subtle sound that is suddenly interrupted a chorus of bells. Similarly, there is a moment in this novel from chapter 22 that also illustrates this sense of sudden urgency. Jacob is realizing how serious his situation with Marlena and August really is, as he states in this quote, “Oh God. He knows. And if he knows, everyone knows. We’ve got to leave now, this very minute” (Gruen 392).