Richard Adams novel, Watership Down, is the account of a group of rabbits trip to search out a new location to inhabit. After escaping the Sandleford Warren because of one rabbit’s instincts, nearly a dozen rabbits cross virgin country. Along the way, they run across a few other warrens. These places exhibit a completely different way of living to the fleeing group. What they learn is vital when they develop their own warren. From these places they manage to collect some rabbits to increase their size once they reach a resting point at their final destination. Each of the places they encounter is set up differently. These warrens contain a distinct and unique social system, belief and leadership role.
Sandleford warren is the first location presented in the story. An Owsla, or group of strong and clever rabbits exercising the Chief Rabbit’s authority, governs the warren. The Owsla is rather military in character. When one of the rabbits, Fiver, comes across some prized Cowslip, the Owsla hurry over to confiscate it for themselves, saying, “Cowslips are for Owsla- don’t you know that? If you don’t, we can easily teach you” (Adams 14). The Chief Rabbit of Sandleford, Threarah, gained his position by strength, level-headedness, and a certain self-contained detachment. He resisted all ideas of mass emigration and enforced the complete isolation of the warren. The rabbits leave their warren in search of a new home not only because they believe Fiver when he tells them that something bad will happen to the warren, but also because the think they can make a better home somewhere else (Adams 24).
The very moment that Hazel and the other rabbits encounter Cowslip’s warren, they realize there is something unnatural about the rabbits. They have no fear of other things, appeared detached and bored, unusually groomed, and gave off a particular scent. Also, not one particular rabbit is considered a leader. They cannot really have a leader because no one can offer them protection from the dangers they face. The mystery behind this warren is that a human controls it. He shoots all the enemy animals in the area, puts out good food for the rabbits, and then snares them for their meat and skin (Adams 122-3). The rabbits are aware of the snares, but choose to pretend life is okay, because they cannot escape their inevitable death...
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...is chosen by the people and acts according to the will of the people. Watership Down thrived in the end, with Hazel basking on the bank and counting the blessings of their warren (Adams 395).
Throughout the novel Watership Down, Hazel and his group experience a diverse assortment of warrens. Each warren contrasted the others with their leadership, social system, and beliefs. In the view of the author and many readers, Watership Down was the “best” of the locations. But if the story were to be written in a different point of view, such as that of Cowslip or Woundwort, how would the reaction be different? They could be portrayed as the poor, misfortunate rabbit. It could change the entire theme of the book. This is the case in the novel All Quiet On the Western Front, where the reader sympathizes towards the German troops during the first world war. If the story were to be written in the vision of Cowslip or Woundwort, would the reader view them as the protagonist because of their acceptance or leadership, and Hazel as the antagonist because of his attempt to be different and change the method?
Adams, Richard. Watership Down. Rex Collings, Ltd.: New York, 1972.
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