Watership Down

by

Richard Adams

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Watership Down: Chapter 35 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chervil and Aven give Bigwig the lay of the land and offer him tips about being on-duty and living in Efrafa more generally. They tell him of Efrafa’s recent difficulties, including the four runaways from Right Flank Mark. They warn him that if the General finds any hraka in the fields, he’ll punish even the Captains—the “little beasts” in each Mark, though, are always trying to “be natural” and leave their waste unburied. As Chervil outlines the high standards and strict rules even Mark Officers and Council members are held to, Bigwig is slightly overwhelmed, but assures his new superiors that he’ll get the hang of things soon.
As Bigwig gets his introduction to Efrafa, he learns that a large part of the mechanism of violence and power here is the subjugation of rabbits’ natural instincts. Wild rabbits never bury their droppings, but in Efrafa, remaining out of sight of predators and men is of such importance that rabbits are forced to interrupt the behaviors that are coded into them from birth. Efrafa is literally altering not just the outward behaviors but the internal wiring of the poor rabbits who live there.
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As Bigwig prepares to take his Mark up for evening silflay, he looks forward to being in the open air. He wonders how his friends are doing, and privately reflects on how lonely he feels and how hard it is to carry such a big secret.
Bigwig feels the strain of his mission—and it’s only just begun.
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Outside, Bigwig spots a “dreadfully mutilated” rabbit who is being paraded around as an example to the others. When Bigwig approaches the rabbit, who introduces himself as Blackavar, he asks why he’s being punished. Blackavar reveals he tried to leave the warren—and yet, he insists, the Council was “merciful” in letting him live. Bigwig walks away and rejoins Chervil, who reveals that Blackavar has been forced outside at each and every silflay for the better part of a month.
The Efrafans are actively, repeatedly torturing Blackavar and pushing him towards the brink of death in order to remind all of the other rabbits that attempting to flee Efrafa is all but a capital offense. Woundwort is afraid of losing control of the warren and is using violence against Blackavar to reassert his power over all the rabbits under his command.
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Chervil engages a doe named Nelthilta in conversation. She says she’s getting on well and hopes that Chervil is “getting on” too—just as the recently-deceased Captain Mallow, killed by a homba, “got on.” After she hops away, Chervil tells Bigwig that he’s nervous about a group of cheeky does and wants Bigwig to “get to know” them and keep watch on them. Chervil tells Bigwig that if he wants to mate with a doe, he can have his pick of any doe in the Mark—they’re “not officers for nothing.”
Just as fascism in the human world subjugates and devalues women, fascism in the rabbit world does so too. The only weapon Nelthilta and her fellow does have against their superiors is wordplay, and even that is enough to get them in trouble.
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Bigwig goes off to silflay, feeling perplexed and overwhelmed as to how he will ever accomplish his dangerous tasks. He knows Efrafa is surely full of spies, and decides he’ll just have to trust his instincts. He vows to himself that if he does manage to succeed in getting the does out, he’ll get Blackavar out as well, no matter how dangerous it might be. Before long, he comes upon a small group of does, and believes he overhears one of them telling a story. As he listens, though, he realizes she is reciting a poem lamenting the loss of her freedom.
Bigwig has only been in Efrafa a day, yet has already witnessed enormous suffering and staggering physical, emotional, and psychological violence. It is not just personally affecting, but daunting in terms of the mission that has been laid out for him, and Bigwig finds himself willing to risk even his own personal freedom to secure freedom for the Efrafans.
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Though Bigwig has always prided himself on having a tough spirit, he is overwhelmed by the suffering in Efrafa. At the same time, he realizes that in wishing for freedom, these does have not yet reached the edge of despair and might be incited to hope—and flight—if he can get through to them. Bigwig begins talking to the does—he already knows Nelthilta, and learns the names of the others. One is Thethuthinnang, and the other—the one who recited the poem—is called Hyzenthlay. He longs to talk with them some more, but the does are brusque and quickly excuse themselves from his company.
Bigwig reminds himself not to lose hope yet, as even the Efrafan rabbits who are suffering under such violence every single day have managed to retain some hope, at least.
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Towards the end of silflay, Captain Campion returns from a patrol and meets with Chervil. Bigwig listens to their conversation and discerns that Campion has not been past the iron road. Bigwig asks if they ever go beyond it, and they admit that they don’t—it’s too wet. Campion also informs Bigwig that in two or three days’ time, once Bigwig has settled in, the General is going to take him out on patrol and show him how things are done.
Bigwig is collecting information from the Efrafans in order to better craft an escape plan. They willingly give him information about their routines and patrols, unsuspecting of his true motives.
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Bigwig goes down to his burrow, thinking about all the obstacles that lie ahead of him. He determines that he’ll need to make a break for it during the day, when Chervil is asleep and off-duty. The challenge of sneaking Blackavar out too, though, worries Bigwig. He thinks in circles until he falls asleep, and when he wakes a while later, he wonders if perhaps he can use the does’ expertise to aid in the plan. He leaves his burrow and asks a sentry posted nearby to go find Hyzenthlay and bring her to him. Assuming Bigwig wants to mate, the young sentry runs off to fetch her.
Again, as Bigwig calls for a sentry to fetch Hyzenthlay, he is working the system that is already in place for his own devices, managing to the avoid detection of his true motives by the others all around him.
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When Hyzenthlay comes to his burrow, Bigwig calls her close to him. He can tell that she is tense and angry. He asks her if she remembers the four rabbits who came to Efrafa many days ago, and if she recalls talking to their leader, Holly. Bigwig tells Hyzenthlay that he is from their warren, and explains their whole journey and mission, including Kehaar’s role in it. At the end of his tale, Hyzenthlay tells Bigwig that she believes him and knows he is not a spy. He asks if she will join him, and after a long while, she answers.
Bigwig knows that securing the help and confidence of Hyzenthlay—the doe who seems to have the most yearning to see the wild—is crucial to his mission, and that winning her trust may make or break the plans that are already in motion.
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Hyzenthlay says that escape from Efrafa is possible, but beyond that, she cannot “see.” She foretells confusion and fear and speaks madly about “a dog—a rope that snaps like a dry branch [and] a rabbit that rides in a hrududu.” She admits that her sight is not as good as it once was. Reminded of Fiver’s visions, Bigwig trusts Hyzenthlay’s wisdom and asks if he can rely on her to get the other does on board. She admits there’s a complication: she was one of the does who asked to leave, and now she and her friends have been separated into different Marks and placed under increased surveillance.
Hyzenthlay is committed to helping Bigwig but is worried because she and her friends’ rebelliousness has already brought them under close watch. The mission will be more complicated than it would be if the does had remained complacent. This is how violence and power work in Efrafa: by making escape or dissent so difficult that many just give up rather than risk more punishment or surveillance. 
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Hyzenthlay warns Bigwig that no one can be told of the plan ahead of time except perhaps Thethuthinnang. Nelthilta is young and gossipy, and hardly anyone in Efrafa can keep a secret for long. Bigwig is grateful to have made a “strong, sensible friend” who will “help to bear his burden.” He tells Hyzenthlay to pick some does and have them ready to run at his signal during sunset silflay tomorrow. A bird will fight for them, he says, and even if the General and the Council come after them, they won’t have to run far before they arrive at the meeting-point at a nearby river, where he and his friends have devised a trick that El-ahrairah himself would be proud of.
Though Bigwig has made a friend and found a confidant, he has to be careful about who else he brings into his circle of trust. Still, his worry and anxiety are replaced by excitement and newfound motivation as a result of Hyzenthlay’s enthusiasm and support.
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Bigwig tells Hyzenthlay of his plan to break Blackavar out as well, and Hyzenthlay admires his bravery. Bigwig asks if she can see any holes in the plan, and she replies that she cannot, but is afraid of the unexpected. Bigwig tells her that she must take a risk if she wants to be free. At the prospect of digging her own burrow, mating with whom she chooses, and bearing her litters in peace, Hyzenthlay says she’ll “run any risk.” Hyzenthlay heads back to her burrow, and Bigwig comforts himself in his sudden loneliness that tomorrow, he’ll be back with his friends.
This passage shows that even for a rabbit like Hyzenthlay, who has been beaten down and subjected to unimaginable violence, the prospect of freedom is worth any risk, any pain, any punishment.
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