Watership Down

by

Richard Adams

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Watership Down: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the morning, Hazel learns that one of the Efrafan does—the one who grazed the first bridge—has died in the night. They all lament her death, and Hazel begins to worry about the fate of the group. With Kehaar soon to leave, Bigwig’s injury, and his own bad leg, he worries that the burden of shepherding the does back to Watership Down will be too much for their group to bear. At the same time, they cannot stay where they are much longer—the does are distraught over their loss, and the sounds of passing hrududil are agitating them even further.
There is no rest for the weary, and Hazel, as Chief, hardly ever has more than a moment of respite before the next threat approaches. He knows that he will somehow have to motivate a band of exhausted, tired rabbits to push forward into the unknown, and the task daunts him despite all he has been through.
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Hazel and Bigwig approach Kehaar, who announces that he is going to take off for the “Peeg Vater.” They thank him for his help and his loyalty and tell him that he can find them on Watership Down whenever he returns to the hills. As Kehaar spreads his wings and flies away, Bigwig says that he hopes he himself can see the Big Water someday, too.
Kehaar is leaving, and the rabbits will have to make do without him going forward. They will miss their friend, but it is time for him too to return home where he belongs.
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After saying goodbye to Kehaar, the rabbits begin making their way north. Bigwig and Hazel are both slowed by their injuries, and the does know little of life as a hlessil; they have to be taught how to move, how to catch scents, and how to shelter themselves. Blackavar, a capable and intrepid rabbit “when not crushed by humiliation and ill-treatment,” becomes essential to their group’s survival during the days-long journey.
As the group begins making their way home, things are difficult, but not impossible, and Hazel and the others are pleasantly surprised by how helpful and useful some of their new Efrafan comrades are.
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Late one afternoon, Hazel suggests the rabbits stop to rest for the night. Fiver, though, has an odd feeling, and Blackavar warns Hazel that they are in “fox country”—not even Efrafan Wide Patrols would dare traverse this territory. Bigwig, surly due to his injury, teases Blackavar for his “Efrafan scoutcraft act.” Hazel stops the quarreling and enters a firm decision: they will stop here to rest, as it’s clear that everyone is exhausted on edge. The group sets to work digging scrapes, and after a night of rest, everyone does indeed feel better.
Though there is a little bit of tension as the journey reaches a difficult moment, Hazel is, as always, able to settle things calmly and democratically by doing what is best for the group.
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The next morning, the group catches the familiar scent of rabbits—they believe they have gotten Holly’s scent. The rabbits are happily talking about home when suddenly a fox runs up and snatches away one of the does. The rabbits all dash for cover, and lament that the Efrafan does’ instincts, weakened by life in the Mark rotation, are not able to save them in times of danger.
The rabbits’ journey home is long and difficult, and for every happy moment of anticipation and relief there is a moment of pain, loss, and harsh reality.
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The rabbits quickly move on. Bigwig apologizes to Blackavar for not listening to him and teasing him. Blackavar insists he doesn’t know what Bigwig is talking about and hops away. Hyzenthlay explains that in Efrafa, if a rabbit gave advice and it wasn’t accepted, he immediately forgot it and adopted whatever was decided instead.
The rabbits from Efrafa still bear the psychological scars of their painful past, and it will take a long time for them to heal.
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Related Quotes
That afternoon, the rabbits come to a familiar place, and Hazel realizes that if they press onward they will be in the Honeycomb by night. As they stop to forage for food, they suddenly come upon four Efrafans. One of them is Campion, and though Hazel tells him that their business with Efrafa is finished, Campion demands they hand over Hyzenthlay and the other does. Silver—bluffing wildly—approaches Hazel and Campion and informs them that he has “sent for the white bird.” Hazel tells Campion that their band is no match for Hazel’s own large group, and he sees in Campion’s face that Campion knows he is right.
The rabbits are nearly home—but the dangerous part of their journey is not over yet. The Efrafans have caught up with the, and remain indignant and angry about the “theft” of the does. At the same time, Hazel and his group, having been victorious back at the river, have the physical and emotional advantage over the beaten Efrafans.
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Blackavar approaches Hazel and whispers that they must kill the officers—they must not be allowed to return to Woundwort and make a report. Hazel, though, doesn’t feel he has either the strength or the heart for a fight. He orders Blackberry and Silver to take the does and move on and tells Campion to take his patrol and return to Efrafa. Surprisingly, Campion and the others relent, and the group moves onward.
Hazel is sick of violence. Even though Blackavar, from experience, knows that swift and merciless violence is the quickest way to power and control, Hazel does not want to fight anymore, and decides, in a show of good faith, to let the Efrafans go. 
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Soon, Blackavar reports that he has seen two strange rabbits nearby—Hazel and Dandelion go off to investigate and are thrilled to find Buckthorn and Strawberry playing at the foot of a hill. The reunion is happy, and Hazel excitedly returns to the group to tell them the coast is clear—they’ve made their way home at last. That night, they all pile into the Honeycomb—unaware that Campion has followed them, tracked them to their down, and is now returning to Efrafa to gather more troops.
The Watership Down rabbits at last joyfully return home, believing that their trials and troubles are over. The threat of Efrafa, however, looms in the distance, and there will be more fighting before the novel is over.
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