Literature Study GuidesWatership DownPart 4 Chapters 39 40 Summary

Watership Down | Study Guide

Richard Adams

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Watership Down | Part 4, Chapters 39–40 : Hazel-Rah | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 39: The Bridges

The epigraph is from an American folk song about a boatman rowing down the Ohio River. The rabbits float down the river on the boat, glad to have escaped, but they all realize that they haven't thought about how to get off the boat. The banks of the river are too high to climb. Kehaar begins to lose patience with the rabbits because they don't know anything about the river and its bridges. The boat goes under one bridge that knocks down one of the does, seriously injuring her, and knocks Acorn down as well, though Acorn turns out to be ok. Then it hits another bridge with a culvert too small for the boat to go through. Everyone is stuck, but Kehaar tells them they can swim under the bridge and get out on the bank beyond it. No one wants to do this, but they have no choice. Kehaar even gets into the water and floats under the bridge slowly to show them that it can be done. The rabbits freeze when a group of men crosses over the bridge, but the men don't notice them. This near miss makes Hazel determined that they have to get off the boat. He and Pipkin go first and land on a muddy bank beyond the bridge, covered in sludge but otherwise all right. They go over the bank to tell the others the river is safe, but Bigwig has to encourage the does to get into the water because he is the one whose orders they will obey. By the time everyone gets under the bridge and onto shore, the group is exhausted, and they all go to sleep in the underbrush.

Part 4, Chapter 40: The Way Back

The epigraph is from Walter de la Mare's poem, "Dame Hickory," describing a wolf at the door. Thrayonlosa, the doe who was injured by the bridge, dies during the night, which upsets Hazel. His leg bothers him, Bigwig is injured, and Kehaar is leaving for the ocean. It will be a difficult journey home, trying to move a group of does who are still afraid. Blackavar proves to be a capable rabbit; Bigwig learns Blackavar's mother was one of the rabbits taken to Efrafa by Woundwort and his father was an Owsla officer at Efrafa. Blackavar was the one who encouraged the does to plead with the Council to let them leave, with him as their escort. When the Council refused their request, Blackavar made plans to escape but couldn't take the does with him. The punishment by the officers had broken his spirit, but he appeared to be healing enough to be useful on the journey back to Watership Down.

Some of the rabbits want to make scrapes in order to be able to rest for a few days, but Blackavar is the one who comes out against the idea most strongly. He says it isn't safe from foxes and the digging would be heard a long way away, so they could be caught. Bigwig is offended by Blackavar's confidence and forthright opinion, but Hazel tells Bigwig to stop bullying Blackavar. They make scrapes, but a fox comes and grabs one of the does. Hazel wants to tell Blackavar that he was right, but Blackavar claims he didn't disagree with Hazel, which is a relic of his time in Efrafa. If a rabbit of higher authority didn't listen to advice, the advice was as good as never given, to be forgotten by the lower-ranked rabbit. Hyzenthlay says does don't think like that.

As the journey proceeds, the group runs into Captain Campion, who has taken a patrol to intercept them. However, Campion hasn't counted on there being so many rabbits in the group, so when Hazel tells him to turn back and leave them alone, he goes. Blackavar says they can't let Campion report back to the general, but Hazel doesn't want to fight. The group continues back home, and are met by Buckthorn and Strawberry. All twenty rabbits make it to the warren and go underground to listen to Hazel and Bigwig tell the story of their journey. However, the Wide Patrol has followed them and now knows where they live.


Kehaar helps one last time by showing the rabbits the safe route out of the river—there is no way for them to know otherwise. He has become part of the group, and as he leaves to go to the ocean, Hazel tells him to come back and stay with them again when the season changes. Hazel's instinct to trust that helping Kehaar would benefit them proves to be right on target: Kehaar has become more than just a helper. He is a friend the rabbits will be happy to host again.

However, Hazel's instincts are not always that refined. Hazel doesn't trust Blackavar's warning about the foxes enough to stop everyone from making scrapes and resting, but a fox comes and takes a doe away from the group. Hazel says he should have trusted Blackavar, but he mistrusts him again when Blackavar tells him the patrol has to be killed so they don't report back to Woundwort. The patrol ends up following them and knowing where the warren on Watership Down is located, which will culminate in the climax of the novel.

Blackavar's reaction to Hazel's admission shows how insidious a totalitarian regime's control is for those who are put down by the regime. Blackavar is well trained to forget that he ever gave advice if no one takes the advice. No one is to ever question the validity of orders or authority of higher officers. To accept that one's advice wasn't taken would mean that there was at one point a question about what the higher ranked rabbit would do. Everyone in Efrafa pretends that their superiors are always correct, no matter what, in order to keep from being tortured or killed. This kind of thought control is impossible to just shake off even once Blackavar is free from it.

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