Study Guide

Watership Down by Richard Adams in Ecocriticism

Watership Down by Richard Adams

This book is like another episode in our hit lit series we've dubbed Humans Behaving Badly. On this episode, it's the bulldozers vs. the bunnies. Our main characters, those rascally rabbits, must search for a new home because people are coming to destroy their warren (a rabbit suburb).

As they see this adventure through, they fight off dogs and rival bunny bands, find a new home, and even rescue some lady friends from a rabbit-fascist. To the ecocritic, all of this can be understood as Adams's way of trying to get us to recognize animal dignity—what the author calls "animality."

Animality basically means never having to say "I'm sorry I killed you for no good reason, animal friend." And conservationists the world 'round applaud. Aldo Leopold, in one of the most famous accounts in all of environmental literature, reports that he watched the "green fire" die in the eyes of a female wolf he had shot. He wrote:

I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to men in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. 

And as Adams's tale would indicate, animals live epic lives. So if we apply Leopold's idea of a "land ethic" to Watership Down, we see green fire all over this novel. Adams is simply using animals talking like humans to instruct humans how to treat animals.

Phewf. It sure can take a lot to get humans to be nice to other creatures.

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