Watership Down

by: Richard Adams

Themes

Home

The idea of home resurfaces again and again throughout Watership Down. The rabbits leave their warren in search of a new home not only because they believe Fiver when he tells them that something terrible will happen to the warren, but also because they think they can make a better home somewhere else. Fiver's only dream is for them to reach Watership Down, where he believes things will be better. But home is not merely the place where the rabbits live. They reach the down relatively early on, but something is missing. They need does, because home also means family and community. Home has permanence; it is not some sort of temporary shelter, which is all it could ever be if it were inhabited solely by bucks.

Moreover, there are several different versions of home in the novel. The rabbits in the warren of the snares think that they are at home, but their strange and melancholy behavior shows that they have not truly found a home. A true home is a place where the rabbits can live in harmony with nature. In this sense, Efrafa is not a true home, because Woundwort attempts to dominate nature. At the end of the novel, when Hazel looks back at his warren, just after he has left his body, what he sees is home. He sees many rabbits running and playing and enjoying themselves. Home is a place in which to take pleasure, not just a place that provides protection or food. Watership Down provides the aesthetic of home, and once the rabbits find does and create a community, it actually is a home.

Leadership

Hazel, the protagonist of Watership Down, is also the leader of the rabbits, and his ability to lead is continually tested by their adventures. Leadership is a subtle quality. Although Bigwig is stronger and bigger than Hazel, Hazel makes a much better leader because he has the ability to think for the group. He sees immediately how to utilize each member of the group in order to best benefit them all. With a good leader, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Hazel does not let anything interfere with the goals of the warren, and as its leader, he decides what those goals are. Cowslip seems to be the leader of the warren of the snares, but they cannot really have a leader because no one can offer them protection from the dangers they face. Woundwort is clearly the leader of Efrafa, but he rules like a dictator, and his military regime leaves the majority of his subjects unhappy. Woundwort leads through example only in warfare, and otherwise his power is maintained through fear and force. Hazel, however, manages to do things differently. He is a true leader, unafraid to let others come up with ideas, yet himself often figuring out what should be done. The other rabbits respect Hazel, and after a while their faith in him is unshakable, simply because he acts swiftly and confidently and keeps the entire group in mind when he does so.

Nature

Nature plays a very prominent role in the novel. Hazel and his rabbits find the warren of the snares unnatural, and they would say the same about Efrafa. Living naturally is the goal of these rabbits, and they cannot comprehend how others could want to live any other way. They want to be free to roam and eat outside and do the things that rabbits have always done. Of course there will always be predators, but no protection from a predator is worth the loss of the chance to live a normal rabbit life. Woundwort wants to make Efrafa invisible, and he destroys the lives of most of the rabbits there in the process. Fiver acts naturally all the time, never losing sight of who he is or what he wants. Because of this, Fiver sees the warren of the snares for what it is.