Course Hero. "Watership Down Study Guide." Course Hero. 15 Nov. 2017. Web. 19 Dec. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/>.
Course Hero. (2017, November 15). Watership Down Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Watership Down Study Guide." November 15, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/.
Course Hero, "Watership Down Study Guide," November 15, 2017, accessed December 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/.
The epigraph is from the Earl of Chesterfield's Letters to His Son, in which he says that one should learn from those with whom they keep company. Hazel tells Cowslip that he and his group need to go out and silflay, feed on grass, but Cowslip tells them to eat the food they have inside the warren because it's raining. Hazel insists the rabbits need to silflay and that they're used to bad weather. Cowslip laughs an eerie laugh, which completely disturbs Hazel, because rabbits don't laugh. Pipkin tells Hazel that the does sing to their kittens like robins, which is also strange. Pipkin says that Cowslip's colony reminds him of "trees in November," because the rabbits are big and strong, but they are all "so sad." There are so many behaviors in this warren that don't make sense.
Later, Strawberry thumps his foot to tell everyone that there is flayrah out in the field for them. Flayrah is food that grows in the garden, for which rabbits go on expeditions to steal, but Strawberry tells Hazel that they don't go on expeditions for it. There is always a pile of it ready for them, even in winter. Hazel asks why there aren't more rabbits in the warren since food is not a problem, but Strawberry cuts him off, offering to show him how to carry the food into the warren. All the rabbits except Fiver learn to carry. Fiver is horrified and says they are like dogs. He believes this is another sign of danger, but no one will listen to his fears, even Hazel, who knows he's not crazy or lying. Fiver won't stay in the warren and huddles under a yew tree, while Hazel asks Dandelion to tell a story in the warren to their new friends.
The epigraph is in Italian, from Lorenzo da Ponte, "Così fan Tutte," in which the character Despina comes in disguise as a doctor, looking terrible. Dandelion tells the story of how El-ahrairah got access to the lettuce in King Darzin's garden in order to make Prince Rainbow allow him and his people to leave the marshes, where they had been banished. El-ahrairah's sidekick, Rabscuttle, manages to make friends with the King's son and gets smuggled into the castle. Rabscuttle spoils the food in the storage room. The food makes the king and many in his court ill.
El-ahrairah comes to the castle, posing as a doctor, and convinces the King that he needs to get rid of his lettuces, which carry a disease deadly to rabbits, and leave a thousand of them at the marshes to poison the rabbits banished there. To prove his point, he has the guards feed Rabscuttle some of the lettuce and Rabscuttle becomes crazed, frothing at the mouth. The king orders the lettuces to be brought down to the marsh, and Prince Rainbow has to keep his word, for El-ahrairah has had a thousand lettuces delivered to him from the King.
The author uses human and other animal behaviors to emphasize how un-rabbit-like Cowslip and the other rabbits in his warren have become. They carry food like dogs, they laugh like people, and they sing like birds. This strange behavior brings to mind what prisoners of war will do in order to survive, exhibiting behaviors they would never exhibit if they were free—just so their captors will keep them alive. These rabbits have adapted to the lack of elil so they are not used to protecting themselves anymore. They have also adapted to having a food source provided by the man, and they act as if this is a wonderful thing. However, it is their fear that makes them adapt. It is also their fear that makes them unwilling to have a leader in the group and to answer questions about where other rabbits are.
Pipkin notices that the rabbits all look sad, despite the luxuries they say are so great. Fiver won't even go into the warren. This is another case of no one believing Fiver when he has a feeling about a dangerous situation. The rabbits follow their leader, Hazel, despite Fiver's warnings and the weird behavior they notice.
The El-ahrairah story serves to entertain the hosts, but it also serves as a metaphor for the food that is left by the man. This free and easily accessible food is to these rabbits as spoiled food is to the king and his subjects, but Cowslip and his colony will not admit that they are being killed off. They eat the food without questioning why it is there. The reader begins to see that the man leaves food for them on purpose: some rabbits disappear for no reason, and the remaining ones are extremely sad and quiet about these disappearances. The only reason the man would leave food is to fatten up the rabbits for being killed, one at a time.