Study Guide

Watership Down The Home

By Richard Adams

The Home

Although he was a yearling and still below full weight, he had not the harassed look of most "outskirters"—that is, the rank and file of ordinary rabbits in their first year who, lacking either aristocratic parentage or unusual size and strength, get sat on by their elders and live as best they can—often in the open—on the edge of their warren. (1.4)

This is a description of Hazel and, also, a sneaky description of Sandleford Warren. In Sandleford Warren, the ordinary rabbits get picked on and "sat on by their elders," which sounds not at all fun. So this is the home where Hazel and Fiver grew up—a home that only seems to respect size, strength, or parentage. Sounds pretty bad, eh?

He had resisted all ideas of mass emigration and enforced complete isolation on the warren, thereby almost certainly saving it from extinction. It was he, too, who had once dealt with a particularly troublesome stoat by leading it down among the pheasant coops and so (at the risk of his own life) onto a keeper's gun. (2.22)

We don't have a lot of good things to say about the Threarah, but here we see how dedicated he is to Sandleford Warren as home. So at least that's something. He's so dedicated he'll even risk his own life (like Bigwig and Hazel later, risking their lives for Watership Down). It's kind of hard to hate a rabbit who cares about his home so much. But to be fair, it's hard to like him, too.

[…] anyone seeing this has seen at work the current that flows (among creatures who think of themselves primarily as part of a group and only secondarily, if at all, as individuals) to fuse them together and impel them into action without conscious thought or will: has seen at work the angel which drove the First Crusade into Antioch and drives the lemmings into the sea. (4.1)

This long sentence is all about how flocks of martins seem coordinated when they fly. Those birds are just like groups of rabbits—and also like human Crusaders and lemmings. So this sentence points out how humans and rabbits can all be group-minded and oriented to the community, which isn't so great when everyone is passing around viral videos like "Gangnam Style."

Bigwig and Hawkbit chased each other through the long grass. Speedwell jumped over the little brook that ran down the middle of the field and when Acorn tried to follow him and fell short, Silver joked with him as he scrambled out and rolled him in a patch of dead oak leaves until he was dry. As the sun rose higher, shortening the shadows and drawing the dew from the grass, most of the rabbits came wandering back to the sun-flecked shade among the cow parsley along the edge of the ditch. Here, Hazel and Fiver were sitting with Dandelion under a flowering wild cherry. The white petals spun down around them, covering the grass and speckling their fur, while thirty feet above a thrush sang, "Cherry dew, cherry dew. Knee deep, knee deep, knee deep." (12.3)

We can tell that this place sure feels home-like to the rabbits. They're relaxed and playing with each other (like good members of the community). Plus, check out all that nature description. Among the other things they need, rabbits need nature. Very richly described nature that slows down the story just a bit.

For the first time, Hazel began to realize how much they had left behind. The holes and tunnels of an old warren become smooth, reassuring and comfortable with use. There are no snags or rough corners. Every length smells of rabbit—of that great, indestructible flood of Rabbitry in which each one is carried along, sure-footed and safe. The heavy work has all been done by countless great-grandmothers and their mates. (12.65)

Rabbits are like hobbits. Home isn't just any old hole in the ground. The best homes for rabbits have all the amenities, like smooth tunnels, bidets, central heating, and a long history of rabbits, "that great, indestructible flood of Rabbitry." We love that; check out that capital R to remind us that we're talking about something important and abstract—it's not just this particular rabbit, it's all of Rabbitry.

"We were all born in a warren that was dug before our mothers were born," said Blackberry. "We're used to holes and not one of us has ever helped to dig one. And if ever there was a new one, who dug it? A doe. I'm quite sure, myself, that if we don't change our natural ways we shan't be able to stay here very long. Somewhere else, perhaps; but not here." (19.25)

Here's Blackberry, the inventive rabbit, making the case that the male rabbits are going to have to step up and start digging and doing other chores around the house. When they're making a new home, they may have to come up with some new ideas. (See "Themes: Exploration" for more of Blackberry's thoughts about new ideas.)

After this, El-ahrairah tried not to tell Hufsa anything at all. But it was difficult to prevent him from hearing things because, as you all know, rabbits are very good at keeping secrets from other animals, but no good at keeping secrets from each other. Warren life doesn't make for secrecy. (22.49)

We hear this idea a few times, that warren life is terrible for keeping secrets—like an underground version of Facebook. This is another example of the connection between community and home in Watership Down. It's hard to keep a secret in the home because everyone in the home is connected. (Literally in most warrens: it's all one big hole in the ground. The echoes must be something else.)

"If it comes to the worst," said Bigwig, "we can leave the hutch rabbits and bolt. Elil take the hindmost, don't they? I know it's tough, but if there's real trouble we ought to save our own rabbits first. Let's hope that doesn't happen, though." (25.45)

This might sound a little harsh—like Bigwig cares more about his friends than these hutch rabbits, which is weird if we consider that he's breaking the hutch rabbits out so they can join his group. But this is the flip side of home and community: some rabbits are on the inside, but some are on the outside.

"Come on, get out of the way," he said. "I'm going to sleep now, Hazel, and Frith help you if you say I'm not."

"That's how we go on, you see," said Hazel to the staring Blackavar. "You'll get used to it after a bit." (39.94-5)

When reading this, put yourself in Blackavar's shoes: it's no wonder that he stares at Hazel and Bigwig. He grew up in Efrafa where you could be killed for speaking as Bigwig does here. This reminds us that each warren might have its own politics and culture.

Hazel looked about him. "Anyone who wants to go can go," he said. "I shan't. We made this warren ourselves and Frith only knows what we've been through on account of it. I'm not going to leave it now." (42. 55)

Hazel's put a lot of work into creating this warren and he's not going to leave it. Of course, that means that he's going to have to fight and possibly die for it, but that's a price Hazel is willing to pay for his home. Which makes all of our mortgages sound cheap by comparison.