Literature Study GuidesWatership DownPart 2 Chapters 22 23 Summary

Watership Down | Study Guide

Richard Adams

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Watership Down | Part 2, Chapters 22–23 : On Watership Down | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 22: The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah

The epigraph for this chapter is from Congreve, Love for Love, referring to a face as a "rogue face," which is appropriate for El-ahrairah. The folk hero is the trickster and leader of the rabbits, who survive because of these tricks, just as Robin Hood is a rogue who steals in order to help the poor survive.

Hazel and Silver begin cleaning up Holly's torn ears, which are in bad shape. Hazel explains to Blackberry and Silver that his motivation for helping the mouse was to get the mouse to help them understand their new environment. Mice know all the plants and land features, and they also know about all of the possible dangers where they live. Other animals who are not elil have the same enemies that rabbits do, Hazel explains. "I think we ought to do all we can to make these creatures friendly. It might turn out to be well worth the trouble," he says. Bluebell tells the tale of how El-ahrairah used other creatures to discredit Hufsa, a rabbit who told Prince Rainbow all of El-ahrairah's plans to steal carrots and other vegetables. At trial Hufsa explained the crazy behavior of the animals, who had all done strange things in exchange for food from El-ahrairah, which made Hufsa himself look crazy and not worth trusting. Prince Rainbow released El-ahrairah and took Hufsa away from him as well, leaving El-ahrairah in peace.

Part 2, Chapter 23: Kehaar

The epigraph for this chapter is from Robinson Jeffers's "Hurt Hawks," describing the face of a hawk that has been injured. Hazel's plan to help any creature who needs it is put into practice when Kehaar, a large black-headed gull, lands in the hollow with an injured wing. Hazel invites Kehaar to be sheltered in their warren and makes the other rabbits gather bugs to feed Kehaar. Kehaar is suspicious, warning the rabbits, "You 'urt me, I 'urt you like damn."

Bigwig sits with Kehaar, fascinated by his stories of being attacked by a cat and his tales of the ocean, where he and the other gulls go each year to mate. Bigwig tells Hazel all about Kehaar, and Hazel tells the group his plans to use Kehaar's flying ability once the gull's wing heals. The group had given no thought to how their warren will survive without does, but Hazel, as Chief Rabbit, realizes their predicament. Hazel thinks Kehaar could find them another warren nearby from which they could get does for their warren. Blackberry says, "That bird could find out in a day what we couldn't discover for ourselves in a thousand!" Bigwig thinks he can get the bird to do what they want. When Kehaar's wing is better, he asks to see Hazel, saying that Bigwig told him the warren has no "mudders" (mothers) and needs them. Since Kehaar had been on his way to mate, Bigwig knew that Kehaar would sympathize with their lack of mates. Bigwig allowed Kehaar to come up with the same idea that Hazel originally had: to fly and search from the air for nearby doe prospects.

When Kehaar returns, he tells the group about a farm where there are rabbits who live with men, in hutches. He also says he has found a "rabbit town" down the river past the "iron road," the train tracks. He thinks there are plenty of does there, because it is a big warren. Hazel and the others don't want to give up the work they have done on Watership Down, so they don't want to join the bigger warren, but Hazel thinks that the warren might let them take some does. He explains that when a warren is overcrowded, there isn't enough for everyone to eat, and the does don't have kittens—or if they do, they don't give birth to them: their bodies re-absorb their litters. Holly says, "If there's little chance of a decent life for them, it's a doe's privilege to take them back into her body unborn." Holly volunteers to go to the other warren to seek does, and the group decides that Silver, Buckthorn, and Strawberry will accompany him.


The El-ahrairah story about the stolen carrots and the animals who act crazy in court is a fable that reinforces the idea Hazel has: to be kind to other animals who are not elil, in exchange for help when the rabbits need it. This is one of El-ahrairah's most successful tricks to get himself out of trouble and to punish Hufsa, the rabbit who keeps telling the prince about El-ahrairah's intentions to raid gardens. The author uses these folk hero stories to parallel the actions Hazel takes to keep the warren alive. Since any Chief Rabbit is supposed to be the El-ahrairah of the warren, these stories serve to prove to the reader as well as to the rabbits in the warren that Hazel's ideas are those of a leader. Hazel's creativity and determination to make sure the group survives inspire the loyalty of the other rabbits in the warren.

The appearance of Kehaar is fortuitous, since Hazel had been hoping to befriend a bird. Kehaar is extremely funny, swearing and talking up a storm to Bigwig and to Hazel. Once he trusts the rabbits to take care of him, he discovers that they have the same problem he has: no mates. Bigwig's idea, to play upon Kehaar's empathy for the rabbits so that Kehaar himself comes up with the idea to search for does, is a brilliant second-in-command move that supports Hazel's intentions. Bigwig is to Hazel what Rabscuttle is to El-ahrairah, a sidekick who knows no limits and is willing to jump into any situation to help his leader.

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