The novels, Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen, are both outstanding books and share some similarities. Not only are these novels similar, but they also withhold their own differences. Some similarities and differences to compare Water for Elephants to Riding Lessons include the characters, theme, and last but not least, the setting.
When comparing the two novels to each other, similarities were found between the characters that Sara Gruen describes to us in both books. First off, in Water for Elephants, Gruen introduces a young man named Jacob Jankowski, who is later on described to the readers as a loving and caring man. This is mostly demonstrated when Jacob is around a young woman named Marlena, as these two quickly fall in love. “After several seconds of misgivings, I hold out my hand. She wraps her long fingers around it, then let’s go” (Gruen 205). This quote goes to prove Jacob’s characteristics of being a loving and caring man. As he sits down and is open-minded to what Marlena is saying, they quickly take a liking to each other. Jacob is also displayed as a very hardworking man, right from the very start, when he joins the circus. This young man helps set up the event tents, manages all the animals, and even takes on the responsibility of an elephant. This all goes to prove how hardworking and committed he is to making everything possible. In the same manner, Sara Gruen not only demonstrates those characteristics in Water for Elephants but also carries them over to Riding Lessons. As the storyline progresses, a man named Dan is shortly introduced and is soon to realize that he is Annemarie’s, long-lost love. “He seems to really care for me. I mean, he’s been taking me out for dinner the last three nights and calling me all the time” (Gruen 123). Dan begins to admire Annemarie and wants nothing more than to have a solid relationship with her. He goes on to later explain how he deeply loves her, and how he would do anything for her. Adding to this, we see Dan is also a hardworking man just like Jacob. Being a stable hand on the family farm, he helps to keep everything in order by taking care of the horses and feeding every single one. Therefore, we see the similarities here between Jacob and Dan, by both these young men having characteristics of being caring loving people. Similarities are also shown by these two showings a skill of hard workmanship.
Secondly, in comparing themes in Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons, there were some similar ones that both novels shared. A theme that stood out the most when comparing these two books, was the theme of love. Water for Elephants highly demonstrates this effectively, by the novel actually being centered on the theme of love. Again, we backtrack to Jacob and Marlena’s relationship as it grows rapidly. Love is a driving force with these two characters, and an emotional and physical pledge is given to one another despite anything else. “We lean against the wall in silence, still holding hands” (Gruen 253). In explanation to this quote, Jacob makes his first bold move here and goes after what he really loves. This act of courage goes to prove the strong bond they both share, as is seen throughout the whole novel. Love is demonstrated clearly but so is the theme of animals. This theme is slightly toned down but is still very vivid. As soon as Jacob joins the circus, he is put to work and is constantly around animals. He quickly forms a tight bond with all of them, and some more than others such as Rosie, the elephant. In the same way, the theme of love and animals is also shown in Riding Lessons. Annemarie and Dan quickly catch up with each other and restart their lost love they never had. In the beginning, Annemarie is unsure if Dan has the same feelings for her as she does for him. Her questioning is soon put to rest when he unveils his real love connection with her. “I just want you to know how long I have waited to tell you my true feelings Annemarie” (Gruen 193). After a long night at dinner together, Dan drives Annemarie home and reveals his feelings toward her before it is too late. This is where their love begins, and it only grows from here. Adding to this, the theme of animals is also comparable in Riding Lessons. This novel is centered around an outstanding and unusual horse, who Annemarie believes she has found the long-lost brother of her former Olympic stallion. She insists on training this horse like her old one and creates a very tight bond with him. Both these novels share similar themes of love and animals.
In addition to this, these two novels do share a slight similarity in the description of the setting, by both being mainly in an outdoors atmosphere. The setting in Water for Elephants was described as an outside environment in which the characters in the story worked a day in and day out. This would involve them setting up the circus tents along with the warm weather being described. Also, when the group travels from place to place by train, the scenes are constantly described as being bush areas, moving clouds, and even the description of a spring breeze. “I’m daydreaming, staring out the open door at the sky” (Gruen 197). This quote here proves to the audience that Jacob is on the train traveling and staring out into the open sky on a nice spring day. In a similar fashion, Riding Lessons displays the same atmosphere of having an outdoors feeling while reading the novel. Sara describes the setting as a beautiful family horse farm, where much of their time is spent outside working with the horses. The author creates a very clear image as the setting is slowly picked apart, and describes each scene with great detail. “The beautiful hand-painted barn doors, the wooden stalls and the warm sun shining in through the skylight” (Gruen 38). The details Sara Gruen gives to the reader are highly effective and create a solid image in the mind. Immersing more into the book, the setting continues to be described as an outdoor environmental atmosphere. Yet again, both these novels can be compared by having the same set of taking place outside.
Now that the similarities have been made between Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons, it is now time to take a closer look at what Sara Gruen has done differently in these two novels. The differences will now be made between these two books, by yet again, looking at their characters, themes, and settings.
To begin, when comparing the differences between Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons there was a wide range. From the storyline to the descriptions, it becomes very clear they are different from one another. When looking into Water for Elephants, there is a vast difference between each individual character. When this is compared to Riding Lessons; there is even more of a shift in people. These two books differ greatly by seeing more outgoing characters in Water for Elephants, and more laid-back ones in Riding Lessons. When reading Riding Lessons, the main character, which is Annemarie Zimmer, stands out far more than anyone else. Her attitude towards events is completely different than Jacob Jankowski’s characters in Water for Elephants. Jacob comes off as a strong individual young man, who has a positive outlook on circumstances, while Annemarie Zimmer was always uptight and in a rush. This is all comparing the two main characters in both books. The characters in these novels also differ from one another by the circus people being told what to do constantly and being the workers. In Riding Lessons, the characters run their own business and are their own bosses. Therefore, these novels both differ in characters that have very different lives and personalities.
Next, when looking over the themes of these novels, there might have been some similar ones but also some very different themes as well. Water for Elephants demonstrates a great example of the theme of courage. “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you tell me that it’s okay for August to hit her because she’s his wife” (Gruen 81). Jacob takes an even stronger stand against domestic violence and insists that there is no defending against August’s abuse. This took great courage for Jacob to stand up and express how he feels about this, especially when it involves the woman he loves. Throughout this novel, there are acts of courage shown all around and on every page. For example, it takes courage to leave home, leave your husband, keep a huge secret, and even join the circus in the first place. On the other hand, Riding Lessons does not show many acts of courage at all. This novel differs from Water for Elephants by carrying a theme of family. Family plays a great role throughout Riding Lessons and goes to show how powerful one can be all together. When Annemarie reconnects with her family, her life changes for the better and she is soon running the family farm. The Zimmer family becomes extremely close once again and helps one another out on a daily basis. “We all sat down together and ate dinner as a family. It really felt good to be home” (Gruen 36). Annemarie has her first dinner with her family after reconnecting and describes how good it feels to be together as a family and share that moment together. When comparing these two books, their themes differ from each other by one having a strong theme of courage, and the other showing a strong connection with the family.
Lastly, Sara Gruen’s novels differ by also having a different setting atmosphere. Even though both compare by sharing a set of outdoors types, there are also huge differences when looking at the bigger picture. Water for Elephants displays a setting that is constantly changing location and moving around all the time. As the circus travels, the tone changes each time causing a different location to be the setting and something new to be described. On the contrary, Riding Lessons demonstrates a stable setting. This is where the actions stay fixed on one main location, which in this situation is the family farm and stable. The book rarely jumps to another location and is mainly focused on the description of the barn, house, and horses. “Once I arrived, everything looked exactly how it was ten years ago” (Gruen 29). Once Annemarie arrives home, she describes her surroundings, as being the same as they were ten years ago before she left home. Therefore, this describes to the audience how the setting has not changed and continues to focus on the farm setting throughout the book. The settings in these two novels are not only similar but are also very different from one another.
In conclusion to this, Sara Gruen did a phenomenal job on both books. Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons share many similarities and differences with one another. The similarities and differences to compare each book are the characters, themes, and setting.