Watership Down | Study Guide

Richard Adams

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Watership Down | Part 1, Chapters 1–2 : The Journey | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 1: The Notice Board

The novel opens with an epigraph (quotation used to preface a chapter) from Cassandra, the character in Greek playwright Aeschylus's play Agamemnon, who is cursed to predict disaster without being heeded. The chapter starts with the introduction of Hazel, a young rabbit in the Sandleford warren, and his smaller brother, Fiver. They are in search of flowers to eat, but as they graze, Fiver looks out across the field and has a vision of blood and destruction that reduces him to tears and whimpers. Hazel tries to comfort him, but Fiver will not be soothed. There is a large notice board in the field that advertises a new housing development, slated to be placed right where the rabbits' warren is located.

Part 1, Chapter 2: The Chief Rabbit

The epigraph for this chapter comes from a poem called "The World" by Welsh poet Henry Vaughan, about a statesman who will not budge. The statesman in this chapter is the Threarah, the warren's Chief Rabbit. Fiver insists that he has to tell the Threarah that everyone in the warren is in danger and must leave immediately to find a safer place to live. Hazel brings Fiver to the Threarah, with the help of Bigwig, a large rabbit who is a member of the Owsla, the dominant rabbits in the warren, and Fiver makes his case. The Threarah doesn't recognize Hazel, calls him "Walnut," and barely listens to Fiver. When Fiver is done, the Threarah informs Fiver that it is a lovely day, there is no "elil" (evil) around, and no one in the warren will believe that there is any reason to just pick up and leave. Fiver is so worked up that he has a squealing fit, which Hazel tries to explain away. The Threarah dismisses the brothers, telling them he will take the advice under consideration, and once the brothers have left, Bigwig gets a severe lecture for having brought them to the Threarah in the first place.

Analysis

The conflict for the novel is set up right away in these first two chapters. The warren is in danger and Fiver, who is extremely sensitive and has visions, knows it. He can't read the sign about the housing development, but he has visions of what will happen once the development begins. Fiver's motive is to save the rabbits in the warren from death. However, just like the classical story in which Cassandra warns of danger but no one believes her until after it is too late, no one believes Fiver, except his brother Hazel. Fiver, a very small rabbit with little influence, will have these kinds of visions throughout the novel. While Hazel will continue to rely on Fiver for accurate visions of danger, Fiver will encounter other rabbits who refuse to take his visions seriously.

The reader is also introduced to the hierarchical structure of a rabbit warren, in which there is a Chief Rabbit who rules the warren and creates the regulations by which the warren lives. There is also a group of dominant bucks (males) referred to as the Owsla. Bigwig, a large, burly rabbit who is ready to fight at any moment but has a good heart, is a typical member of the Owsla, though his disdain for unreasonable authority gets him into trouble. Hazel and Fiver are too young to be considered for the Owsla, and Fiver is too small. However, Hazel's instincts to believe Fiver are well placed, and he will use those instincts to become a leader.

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