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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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WATERSHIP DOWN FREE STUDY GUIDE

OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Fiver

Fiver is the character who initiates the journey with his mystical insight that harm is about to come to the Sandleford warren.

He begins the story as a timid rabbit who is known only to his brother Hazel although other rabbits have heard of his predictions. As the story progresses he grows more confident of his own abilities and begins to speak up regarding his insights even when the other rabbits disagree with him. By the end of the story, his perceptions are so finely honed that he can tell which rabbit will actually be in danger and is capable of taking the lead when he knows an action is safe. The other rabbits go from respecting his opinion to actually relying on it.

Hazel

The leader of the Sandleford rabbits who take the quest.

Hazel gradually learns what it means to truly be a great leader.

He knows it is better to have his people follow him out of their own desires and their trust in him rather than to merely give orders, but he is able to make a decision and stick to it when he believes he is right. He goes out of his way to try to make everyone fit in and feel wanted, and he has a genuine appreciation for the skills of others. Yet, he is a complex character and makes mistakes. He is capable of moments of over-confidence and flashes of self-doubt as well as anger which he exhibits when another rabbit does something foolish. He is open to new ideas and ways of doing things, a characteristic which saves the lives of the rabbits in his new warren.

Bigwig

Also called Thlayli because of a large tuft of hair on his head.

Having been part of the Sandleford Owsla, Bigwig uses his "police" skills to help lead, defend, and even discipline the other rabbits. He has a bit of sarcastic nature that comes out when he is tired or frustrated with a situation, but he is indispensable to Hazel. Once he makes a decision, he is also completely dependable and loyal. At first he is valued more for his strength and size as it is almost an accident that he leaves Sandleford, and Hazel isn’t sure exactly how far he will be able to trust him. He is quite opinionated at first, but gradually learns to accept the wisdom of others and to work together.


Captain Holly

Holly is a minor character in the first half of the book as he is the Captain of the Sandleford Owsla who tries to prevent Hazel and the others from leaving.

However, he escaped the destroyed warren and catches up to the travelers whereupon he becomes valuable for his skill and experience. He also provides a test of Hazel’s maturity in the Efrafa versus the farm business. Hazel is quite content with being the "chief rabbit" even if he says he doesn’t think of himself that way and has a sudden stubborn streak about being upstaged by Holly. In the end, though, Holly is quite content to occupy a position of less authority than he had once been used to.

Woundwort

The premier example of "absolute power corrupting absolutely" in the animal kingdom.

Woundwort is a complex but static character who exhibits many good characteristics of leaders, but also lacks some important ones. His primary objective is power and control. If he seems at times to have some sensitivity toward the needs of his soldiers, it is only because he knows that devotion to one like himself has to be continuously purchased. Yet he is not lacking in courage, cleverness, or intelligence and is able to maintain his position partially because he will himself do anything he asks his followers to do, and will even lead the way into danger himself. Although he is an exceptionally large rabbit, part of the difficulty in fighting him comes from the fact that he never takes his size for granted or assumes brute strength alone will win all his battles. He is a strategist who never stops thinking and knows when to back down and approach an enemy from another side. Among the rabbits, he is a genius, but he is also feared and hated even by some of his own Owsla.

El-ahrairah

He is not an actual "character" in the story but rather an important folk hero who is featured as the protagonist in all of the stories the rabbits tell each other whenever they need entertainment or inspiration.

El-ahrairah is a trickster who achieves his ends by outsmarting his enemies rather than by fighting them. He is an example of ingenuity and the importance of being willing to make changes. He also establishes important "values" in the rabbit culture; for example, it is perfectly acceptable for a rabbit to steal or trick his enemies into giving him what he wants. Yet, he must also accept the fact that others will always be ready to get back at him if they can. El-ahrairah is a common motif known as the "trickster" image and appears by many different names in literatures of various cultures. He is outside the realm of acceptable society and can thus get away with actions that "normal" characters might wish they could do. His deeds are typically self-serving, but may occasionally be beneficial for others. Most of his tricks are harmless, leaving even his worst enemies with nothing worse than humiliation and the loss of some sort of food.

 

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