Discussion Topic

Exploring the major themes in Watership Down

Summary:

Major themes in Watership Down include survival, leadership, and the struggle for freedom. The rabbits' journey symbolizes the quest for a safe home and the difficulties they face in achieving it. The story also highlights the importance of courage, community, and the natural world's beauty and danger.

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What are the themes in Watership Down?

  • 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.
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What is a strong theme to focus on in the novel Watership Down?

I think the most obvious theme would be Human development impacts the natural world negatively, leading to the destruction of animal societies. 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, while the scenes on farms or near human habitats are described in cold, barren terms: almost the language of war. All animals in the novel who are 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.

The most telling examples of this are the Cowslip Warren and Efrafa. In Cowslip's Warren, rabbits live a leisurely, quiet life. They are always provided with food, never without comfort, and all for a small sacrifice of letting the farmer eat them once in a while. Thus they are convinced that a short life of false ease is better than a long life lived naturally. In Efrafa, the contact with humans has made the society a totalitarian dictatorship, with all rabbits carefully monitored and disciplined. It is only when the rabbits have autonomy, far from the world of people, that they can live in peace.

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