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Duality of Abuse and Care. Empathy in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants

Moumita Bala, Smriti Singh


In an era of Anthropocene, habitat loss and species extinction due to anthropogenic factors, and the upsurge in animal exploitation force us to reconsider the “animal question” and relationships between humans and animals. All forms of animal abuse violate the subjectivity of the animals by othering them as objects who are mercilessly exploited. Purportedly influenced by the social consciousness of the moral rights of animals and the animal advocacy movement, Sara Gruen’s novel “Water for Elephants” (2006), exposes the horrible reality of animals being mistreated for entertainment in the circus industry through a fictitious description of the events in the Benzini Brothers’ Shows. The framework of this research is based on two arguments: the crucial link between human insensitivity or empathy erosion and animal abuse; and the significance of empathy, in particular, “entangled empathy”, in acknowledging animals as moral subjects, taking care of them, and creating the harmonious human-animal relationship in the novel.


animal abuse; anthropocentrism; empathy; empathy erosion; entangled empathy; ethics; fiction; human cruelty; moral agency; suffering.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2022-02-basi

Copyright (©) 2023 Moumita Bala, Smriti Singh – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Vilma Baricalla - Luisella Battaglia - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Luigi Lombardi Vallauri - Christoph Lumer - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo

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