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Watership Down

Richard Adams

Chapters 21–22

Chapters 18–20

Chapters 23–24

Summary

Chapter 21: "For El-ahrairah to Cry"

Holly tells them that after they left, the Threarah explained that even if Fiver were right in his premonition, to move an entire warren is a tremendous undertaking. The Threarah pointed out that it is almost always better to stay underground and try to dodge the dangers than to pick up and leave, as many rabbits could not make a long journey, and predators would come from far around.

A few days later, Holly was out on his own, and when he came back he saw a group of men and a boy with a gun. The men filled in many of the holes and then put poisonous gas into each of the holes they had left open. Bluebell picks up the story and describes the terror inside the burrows. Rabbits panicked and mothers fought with any who came near their young. Bluebell managed to find a path that went far down into the earth and came out of a hole in the woods, along with another rabbit, Pimpernel, who was in bad shape.

Before they escaped, Holly tells them, a great plow came and destroyed the field. Then, with the two other rabbits, he followed the path that Hazel had taken. When they came to the warren of the snares, Cowslip and the others attacked them and managed to kill Pimpernel, who was sick, but Holly and Bluebell managed to escape. Holly attacked Cowslip and would have killed him, but Cowslip told him where Hazel and the others had gone. They went on without sleeping, and by the end Holly was delirious and hallucinating. It was at that point that Hazel found him.

Chapter 22: The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah

After Holly's story is finished, Hazel begins to clean his ear out and tells them why he saved the mouse. He figures that it cannot hurt to befriend other animals who are enemies of their enemies. They go out to eat, and Hawkbit tells Hazel that another mouse told him of a place where there is very good grass to eat. They go eat, and Hazel is pleased that helping the mouse paid off.

Bluebell then tells a story about El-ahrairah that took place soon after the story that Dandelion told about the King's Lettuce. Prince Rainbow wanted to put El-ahrairah back in his place, so he brought a rabbit named Hufsa to live with him and made Rabscuttle live somewhere else. Hufsa spoiled all of El-ahrairah's plans by secretly telling Prince Rainbow about them. El- ahrairah finally tricked Hufsa into looking like a fool, and managed to steal Prince Rainbow's new carrots in the process. He went with Hufsa to steal the carrots, but made so many other animals do so many strange things along the way that no one believed Hufsa's story at the trial. The jury, made up entirely of elil—the enemies of rabbits—acquitted El-ahrairah, and Prince Rainbow took Hufsa away.

Analysis

Holly's story brings up several interesting points. In the first place, the Threarah is correct when he points out to his Owsla that moving the entire warren of rabbits would be extremely difficult. Unlike Hazel's small gang of bucks, the warren is filled with mothers and their very small young, who would be easy prey for the predators that they surely would run into. So the Threarah's reasoning is fairly sound—avoid the threat as best as possible by staying underground. Some rabbits might lose their lives, but the warren as a whole would survive. However, what the Threarah does not count on is the danger from humans. For the men who come to destroy the warren are unlike the other elil: they do not simply kill what they need to survive; in fact, they did not really need to kill any of the rabbits. They simply want to kill the rabbits because the warren was in the way of human progress. The men need the land for a housing development, so the rabbits have to go. The men clearly do not consider the rabbits to be thinking, sentient beings. Rather, they think of the rabbits as harmless animals that simply must be eradicated in order to make room for buildings. The fact that the men bring a boy with them to shoot the rabbits who come out of the holes indicates that they do not think what they are doing is wrong. If they had been at all concerned about the morality of their actions, it is unlikely that they would have brought a boy along.

Indeed, the threat from men is a much greater one than that of any other predators. The Threarah's reasoning, however sound, cannot possibly prepare for something like what the men do to the rabbits. It is not in the nature of rabbits to comprehend something like this sort of destruction. Holly has trouble explaining what happened, but all of the rabbits understand in the end that the things that men do are far worse than what any other animals could ever do. Throughout Watership Down there are many instances in which comparisons between rabbits and humans can easily be drawn. In this case, however, it is clear that humanity has set itself apart. Only humans have the power to completely annihilate animals in such a way. Furthermore, only humans kill for sport in such a way. Other animals kill to eat and to survive, but humans kill when they want to. If the men who kill the rabbits had thought about them as thinking creatures with a culture of their own, they might have acted differently. Destroying a civilization of creatures who feel pain and think for themselves is entirely different from killing a bunch of creatures who do not even know what life is. The story teaches these rabbits a terrible lesson, for they know that humans can do worse things to them than they could possibly imagine, without even considering the consequences. Sadly, this callousness is what sets the human race apart from the other animals.

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