Literature Study GuidesWatership DownPart 3 Chapters 37 38 Summary

Watership Down | Study Guide

Richard Adams

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Watership Down | Part 3, Chapters 37–38 : Efrafa | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 37: The Thunder Builds Up

The epigraph in this chapter comes from Joel Chandler Harris, Proverbs of Uncle Remus; the idea is that you can hide a fire, but the smoke gives you away. Woundwort stops Bigwig for questioning: first about why he left his Mark to go to the Left Flank Mark, and next whether he knew Groundsel, one of the Owsla there. Woundwort says that Groundsel recognized Bigwig as the rabbit who led the fox onto a patrol. Woundwort informs Bigwig that he caused the death of an officer, but Bigwig says it was an accident and he had no idea the patrol was there until he saw them. Woundwort asks if Bigwig knows the rabbits who escaped from Efrafa, and Bigwig lies, claiming he's a hlessi, a solitary wanderer. Woundwort asks him why he was near the bird and again, Bigwig lies, saying he wanted to impress Captain Chervil. Woundwort tells him he will be part of the patrol who goes across the iron road to find the escaped rabbits. He also asks Bigwig to keep an eye on Hyzenthlay and her friend, to find out if they are still behaving strangely. All of this questioning takes so much time that Bigwig's plans for escape are ruined.

Kehaar goes back from Efrafa to Hazel to tell him Bigwig didn't show up with the does. Hazel is worried that Bigwig has been hurt or killed. He tells Silver they have to give up the plan for the night and take the group back over the river to hide. Pipkin asks, "Bigwig will come tomorrow, won't he?" Hazel assures Pipkin he will but adds, "If he doesn't come tomorrow, I'm going into Efrafa myself." Pipkin says he'll go, too, if it comes to that.

Bigwig rests next to Hyzenthlay, who wants to know if it's possible to escape that night, but Bigwig knows he can't reliably find the river in the dark and would be able to take only a couple of does. He tells her they will have to escape the next evening. When they go for silflay the next morning, Nelthilta mentions that "does might grow wings and fly." Kehaar shows up and Chervil remarks that the bird is back. Bigwig convinces Chervil that the way to get rid of the bird is to say a charm, "O fly away, great bird so white, And don't come back until tonight." The charm makes Kehaar leave, which convinces Chervil that it works. Bigwig gets a chance to talk with Blackavar alone and tells him about the plan to break out and bring Blackavar with him. Bigwig goes back into his burrow to sleep and wait.

Part 3, Chapter 38: The Thunder Breaks

The epigraph is from Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, about a raging storm. The thunder storm that has been building is about to break. Hazel and Blackberry hear from Kehaar that Bigwig will come that evening, so they plan to hide everyone in the underbrush near the boat. Hazel has to stay near the boat to gnaw the rope halfway only, so that he can get through the rest just as they need to escape. Silver will go to the iron road and "manage the fighting." Silver is distressed that the plan will happen during such a storm and fears it is going to get ugly.

Hyzenthlay wakes Bigwig up with the news that Nelthilta has been arrested. Bigwig tells her to gather the does because they have "no time to lose." Chervil tells Bigwig about the arrest and says there will be no silflay that night, but he has to go to the council and puts Bigwig and Avens in charge. Chervil hasn't told Avens yet about the change and asks Bigwig to tell him. Once Chervil is gone, Bigwig tells Marjoram, another officer, that silflay is early that evening because of the storm. Marjoram hasn't heard anything from Chervil, so he believes Bigwig. Bigwig goes back down into the burrow to tell Hyzenthlay to keep Marjoram talking until he gives the word. He goes back up behind the sentry accompanying Blackavar and tells Bartsia, one of the police guards, that silflay is cancelled, and he should go out and see why. Bigwig gets between Bartsia and Blackavar. He gives the word, "Now!" and attacks Bartsia while Blackavar handles the other guard. He shouts to Avens that Captain Chervil wants him inside and runs out into the field, with the does following him. The alarm has been raised in Efrafa, but the group runs toward the arch as fast as they can, following Bigwig.

Woundwort questions Nelthilta, but Avens rushes in to say that Bigwig has taken a group of does and escaped. Nelthilta has told Woundwort about the plan to have a bird attack the sentry. Woundwort gathers together a posse of officers to chase after Bigwig. Meanwhile, Bigwig comes out from the arch, looking for Hazel and Kehaar. Campion catches up with him, as does Woundwort's group, threatening to kill anyone who doesn't come back with them. Bigwig shouts, "May Frith blast you and your foul Owsla full of bullies!" and just at that moment, a huge crack of lightning rages through the sky. Bigwig hears a voice telling him to use the storm, so he tells Blackavar to get Hyzenthlay and the others and run. Woundwort is about to attack Bigwig when Kehaar swoops in to attack Woundwort. Silver and the other rabbits appear to guide Bigwig and the does back to the boat, first finding "Blackberry ... then Bluebell, then Fiver," stationed by Silver to mark the way to the river. Kehaar tells Bigwig that Woundwort and his gang are near the river, assuming that the group has to cross it. Kehaar helps round up the does to get them to the boat but Blackberry and Fiver can't get them to move because they are too scared.

Woundwort appears with his officers, having set up an ambush at the river. Bigwig realizes how quick and smart Woundwort is and thinks, "If I'd known three nights ago what I know now, I don't believe I'd ever have gone into Efrafa." But Woundwort's presence makes all the does run onto the boat. Dandelion is stuck in the undergrowth away from the boat, with Woundwort between him and Bigwig. Bigwig shouts that the bird is coming, Woundwort looks up, Dandelion runs for the boat, and Hazel chews through the rest of the rope. Just in time, the boat launches and moves down the river while Woundwort and his men look on in astonishment.


Woundwort's line of questioning shows he never misses a trick, but Bigwig is able to throw him off the trail by asking questions himself. Woundwort says, "I'll ask the questions" a few times, but Bigwig is unflappable. Bigwig's lack of respect for authority just for authority's sake shows in this interaction. If a supposed leader is a bully, Bigwig has no problem talking back to him, but Bigwig does feign helpfulness in order to convince Woundwort to leave him alone. Bigwig plays the role of El-ahrairah with the lies he tells Woundwort and the rhyme he uses to let Kehaar know when the plan will go down, disguised as a charm to make the bird fly away.

Hazel's insistence that he will go into Efrafa himself if Bigwig doesn't make it out shows his loyalty to his group and his sense of responsibility for everyone in it. He is the one who gave the order to go in, and if that means that he has put Bigwig in danger, he will go in and try to rescue Bigwig. Pipkin, who is a small rabbit, says he will go, too, showing that even the smallest of rabbits in Hazel's group are willing to fight for the others in the group. They are like a family, loyal to each other no matter what.

The drama of the escape is heightened by how fast the author makes events occur in the scene. The description of the rain, the lightning, the direction each of the rabbits is looking, and even the wounds inflicted by Woundwort—all combine to give the reader a mental image of the chaotic escape. All of the steps of the plan are enacted as quickly as possible, and the whole situation is made more confusing and terrifying by the lightning storm. In addition, Bigwig begins to feel afraid because he realizes that Woundwort is stealthy and has concocted a plan in no time at all. Every move that Bigwig makes is countered by Woundwort, which terrifies Bigwig. But the boat is the one trick that will make the plan work, unless Woundwort knows about that as well, a thought that stops Bigwig for a second.

However, the voice that tells Bigwig to use the storm calls him "Thlayli-rah," means he is now running in the footprints of El-ahrairah as the leader and should use his wits as much as he can to get everyone out safely. Bigwig listens to that inner voice and uses distraction as a tool to give everyone a chance to escape. He also harnesses the fear the does feel, albeit unintentionally. The does are backed up to the river by Woundwort, and their instinct to run away pushes them right onto the boat, where they need to be. The author uses a description of how terrifying Woundwort looks as well as the dialogue between him and Bigwig to show the reader what the does are up against.

Group loyalty is strong in Hazel's group, and just as Hazel said he wouldn't leave anyone behind, Bigwig won't either. Bigwig distracts Woundwort in order to make sure that Dandelion has a split second to dash for the boat. Bigwig refuses to leave without Dandelion and uses his wits and knowledge of typical rabbit behavior to make sure that everyone is on the boat before the rope is cut.

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