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Watership Down

Richard Adams

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters 47–Epilogue

Key Facts

"The rabbits became strange in many ways, different from other rabbits. They knew well enough what was happening. But even to themselves they pretended that all was well, for the food was good, they were protected, they had nothing to fear but the one fear; and that struck here and there, never enough at a time to drive them away. They forgot the ways of wild rabbits. They forgot El-ahrairah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in the enemy's warren and paying his price?"

In this passage, Fiver has finally figured out the problem with Cowslip's warren. The rabbits are all fed by a farmer who keeps their predators away and makes life easy for them until he catches them in one of his snares. Fiver explains, from the perspective of the rabbits, how they became trapped in that unnatural existence, unable to escape it because they had lost the ability to live in the wild. Everything was good about their lives except the fact that they lived with death among them and accepted it. Even though they pretended that everything was all right, in reality they knew that death was a part of their warren, and they paid a terrible price for that knowledge. Fiver has tried to warn the others about the warren, but only now do they finally understand. They leave without hesitation, for they know now that the warren of the snares is not a place for rabbits to live, but a place for rabbits to die.

"All other elil do what they have to do and Frith moves them as he moves us. They live on the earth and they need food. Men will never rest till they've spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals."

Holly has just begun telling the story of the way the men poisoned their old warren. What he expresses is a sentiment found in several other places in the novel: the idea that men are capable of an evil the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in nature. Other animals, even the elil who hunt rabbits, simply do what they need to do to survive. Rabbits may not want to be killed by stoats, but the stoats only want to kill the rabbits to eat, and they never kill more than they need. Men, on the other hand, rarely kill to eat and much more frequently kill for other reasons. Furthermore, they almost always kill more than they need. Holly is convinced that men will not stop until they have destroyed all of the animals. This passage is part of a plea on Adams's part to stop our destruction of the environment.

"A rabbit has two ears; a rabbit has two eyes, two nostrils. Our two warrens ought to be like that. They ought to be together—not fighting. We ought to make other warrens between us—start one between here and Efrafa, with rabbits from both sides. You wouldn't lose by that, you'd gain. We both would. A lot of your rabbits are unhappy now and it's all you can do to control them, but with this plan you'd soon see a difference. Rabbits have enough enemies as it is. They ought not to make more among themselves. A mating between free, independent warrens—what do you say?"

Just before the great fight, Hazel comes to Woundwort and offers him this deal. Woundwort declines of course, because he lacks the vision to see what would truly be good for Efrafa. However, what is important is that Hazel sticks to this vision. Even though they defeat the Efrafans he does not want domination, merely cooperation. Hazel wants the rabbits to work together because he knows that in doing so they can overcome more obstacles than if they work against each other. Hazel shows with this speech that he truly is a great leader. He dreams of nothing more than happiness for rabbits; he cares little for his personal glory or power. Woundwort, on the other hand, cares little for most rabbits and is concerned with maintaining power over his Efrafan empire. Woundwort's vision may be bound to fail eventually, while Hazel's could provide unity and peace. The way Hazel presents it, it appears an obvious conclusion that rabbits should not fight each other; when the metaphor is extended to human civilization, however, we see that it is not always so simple. Nonetheless, it is the vision that counts, and that vision extends to all civilizations.

"Bigwig was right when he said he wasn't like a rabbit at all," said Holly. "He was a fighting animal—fierce as a rat or a dog. He fought because he actually felt safer fighting than running. He was brave, all right. But it wasn't natural; and that's why it was bound to finish him in the end. He was trying to do something that Frith never meant any rabbit to do. I believe he'd have hunted like the elil if he could."

Things have settled down after the battle, and Holly reflects on Woundwort. He points out that although the General was brave, what he did was not natural. What Holly means is that Woundwort strayed from the ways that rabbits were meant to live their lives. That is not to say that there is necessarily some overall purpose to rabbit existence, but rabbits are herbivores who attempt to evade their predators. Woundwort would rather fight than run, and he is so big, strong, and fearless that he often triumphs over larger animals. But that is not the way rabbits live. In the end, when he tries to fight the dog, Woundwort simply gives in to the urge to fight, but what is more important than winning a fight is surviving. Rabbits, like all creatures, seek their own survival above all else. Woundwort loses hold of that fact, and it leads to his downfall. Holly's point also means that all of the creatures in nature should stay within their roles. That applies to humanity as well, although just what that role should be is not clear.

"Did you see his body? No. Did anyone? No. Nothing could kill him. He made rabbits bigger than they've ever been—braver, more skillful, more cunning. I know we paid for it. Some gave their lives. It was worth it, to feel we were Efrafans. For the first time ever, rabbits didn't go scurrying away. The elil feared us. And that was on account of Woundwort—him and no one but him. We weren't good enough for the General. Depend upon it, he's gone to start another warren somewhere else. But no Efrafan officer will ever forget him."

Groundsel, one of the Efrafan officers who stays at Hazel's burrow, says these words in praise of Woundwort. Although it seems almost certain that the dog has killed Woundwort, these words are a double-edged sword. They show the inspiration that a great leader can have and the faith that his subjects may have in his abilities. However, Groundsel's quote also demonstrates the danger of a totalitarian regime. He claims that it has been worth the sacrifice, but does he really mean that? It has been worth it for him, certainly, as he is one of the few rabbits who has had privileges, but what about the others? Has it been worth it for the majority of the Efrafan rabbits who have been unable to go out to feed when they want to and who have lived their lives under someone else's control? Clearly not. This quotation shows the danger of indoctrination and demonstrates just how seductive power and glory can be. Certainly Woundwort felt that it was worth it, but Hazel and his rabbits do not think so.

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