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Watership Down

Richard Adams

Study Questions and Essay Topics

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Study Questions

Suggested Essay Topics

Compare and contrast Hazel and El-ahrairah.

There are a few obvious comparisons between Hazel and El-ahrairah. Both are leaders, and both use their minds to figure out solutions to serious problems. In one sense, then, they are very similar. Yet El-ahrairah is a rabbit folk hero, sometimes representing the ideal rabbit but other times embodying a rabbit's sense of mischief. For example, the story of Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog is a prime example of a time when El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle took tremendous risks simply to get a little bit of good food; certainly they could have found an easier way to eat. But El-ahrairah relishes tricking elil, and it seems that he is more satisfied with having tricked Rowsby Woof than getting the food. Woundwort also relishes dealing with elil, although usually in a much more straightforward manner. Hazel, on the other hand, does risk his life in an adventure involving a dog, though he does so only because the entire warren may lose their lives otherwise.

Through an analysis of each of the stories about El-ahrairah and a comparison between them and Hazel's actions it can be argued both that Hazel is very much like El-ahrairah and that they are very different. The important thing is to attempt to pin down each character as best as possible. Once each of them has been somewhat well defined through the use of examples it is easier to draw comparisons between the two. The story of El-Ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé, for example, shows that El-ahrairah is willing to trade his life for that of his people. It could then be argued that Hazel, several times in the novel, demonstrates the same willingness.

Compare and contrast Woundwort and Bigwig.

Woundwort and Bigwig are two of the most fascinating characters in Watership Down. Their similarities are striking: both are large, strong, fierce, and relish fighting. Both are cunning and quick-witted and able to inspire others to achieve more than they would otherwise. Then again, Woundwort is the leader of his rabbits, while Bigwig is not. Whereas Woundwort believes that a military state is the best means of ensuring his own power, Bigwig, who does not care for personal power, thinks Woundwort's military state is like a slave den. Indeed, from a first glance, it seems that despite the surface similarities, Woundwort and Bigwig are worlds apart. However, the challenge is to take a look at what Woundwort means to the rabbits around him, in light of the awe and power he inspires in many of them. Even Bigwig himself sometimes looks at Woundwort with admiration. Why would he do so? Clearly Woundwort must have some features that Bigwig deeply respects. What are they? This question requires digging deep into each character and assessing him in the light of what the other values and desires.

What does it mean for something to be "natural" in Watership Down? Please refer to examples from the text.

The word "natural" comes up again and again in the novel. Sometimes it seems clear that the natural is what Hazel and his rabbits do, while the unnatural is what all the other rabbits do. Although that appears true some of the time, it is simplistic as there are certain problems with this theory. Is it natural for rabbits to go for boat rides? Is it natural for rabbits to befriend other animals, such as birds and mice? These questions complicate the issue somewhat. Perhaps the best thing to do with this question is to look at several examples of things that are described or seem to be portrayed as natural, compare them to several examples of things that are portrayed as unnatural, and try to find something that is common to the natural events but not found in the unnatural ones. Perhaps what is natural is acting for one's own survival, or perhaps it is living freely without interference from man. Alternatively, perhaps there is no clear definition at all. A case could be made for many different definitions, so the important thing is to provide evidence to back up your claim.

What is Fiver's role in the novel?

What role do humans play in Watership Down? How do they compare to other animals?

Assuming that each of the warrens can be viewed as a metaphor for a way that people live their lives, what does the warren of the snares represent?

What is the role of the stories that the rabbits tell inside the novel? Assess both metaphorical implications and practical role within the plot.

Why might Adams have chosen rabbits, rather than other creatures, as the subjects for his novel? What features of rabbits make them special? Refer to specific passages for evidence.

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