What are the themes present in Watership Down?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator
  • Humans are responsible for the destruction of the natural world. Throughout the novel, humans are associated with the death of rabbits, whether by poison, construction, or cars. Crossing the road is an epic task for the rabbits, due to the dangers inherent in cars. The scenes of beauty in the natural world are described in great detail, and all animals left to their own devices discover greater freedom and opportunities than with humans. In fact, the only way to survive is to escape human influence, and establish a society as far from the realm of people as possible.
  • Outside pressures can lead to a totalitarian government in any community. Connecting to the danger of humans, several different societies are seen within the warrens. Cowslip's warren, where the rabbits are fat and leisurely, is owned by a farmer, who kills rabbits to sell for meat. Efrafa, the totalitarian dictatorship, became that way partly in response to hazards—if humans didn't know the rabbits were there, they couldn't kill them, so General Woundwort instituted an increasingly repressive series of controls to keep the warren a secret. Unlike the warren under Hazel, in which discussion, openness, and equal participation among all members of the warren is encouraged, Efrafa is a scene of oppression and strict regulation. Each rabbit is "marked," and its behavior is constantly monitored.