While Watership Down is symbolic of democracy in action, Efrafa, a neighboring warren run by the cruel and violent General Woundwort, is symbolic of authoritarianism and fascism. In Efrafa, rabbits are marked at birth through horrible bites, and the mark they bear dictates how every moment of every day of their entire lives will be spent. The militaristic Owsla which rules Efrafa is one of the largest and most organized around, and any rebellion or attempts at escape are met with swift, decisive force—as shown by the rebellious Blackavar’s mutilated face and ears. When Bigwig infiltrates Efrafa in order to rescue some does and bring them to Watership Down, Adams creates an enormous measure of dramatic tension by creating a conflict between democracy and fascism—powerful forces which have torn apart even the human world more than once.
Efrafa Quotes in Watership Down
“But surely it alters them very much, living like that?” asked Dandelion.
“Very much indeed,” replied Holly. “Most of them can’t do anything but what they’re told. They’ve never been out of Efrafa and never smelled an enemy. The one aim of every rabbit in Efrafa is to get into the Owsla, because of the privileges: and the one aim of everyone in the Owsla is to get into the Council. The Council have the best of everything. But the Owsla have to keep very strong and tough. They take it in turn to do what they call Wide Patrol. They go out over the country—all round the place—living in the open for days at a time. It’s partly to find out anything they can, and partly to train them and make them tough and cunning. Any hlessil they find they pick up and bring back to Efrafa. If they won’t come, they kill them. They reckon hlessil a danger, because they may attract the attention of men.”
“We can’t go on with nothing but these two does.”
“But what else can we do?”
“I know what we’ve got to do,” said Hazel, “but I still can’t see how. We’ve got to go back and get some does out of Efrafa.”
“You might as well say you were going to get them out of Inlé, Hazel-rah. I’m afraid I can’t have given you a very clear description of Efrafa.”
“Oh, yes, you have—the whole idea scares me stiff. But we’re going to do it.”
“It can’t be done.”
“It can’t be done by fighting or fair words, no. So it will have to be done by means of a trick.”
“I’m angry with you,” [Hazel] said. “You’re the one rabbit we’re not going to be able to do without and you have to go and run a silly risk like that. It wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t even clever. What were you up to?”
“I’m afraid I just lost my head, Hazel,” replied Bigwig. “I’ve been strung up all day, thinking about this business at Efrafa—got me really on edge. When I feel like that I have to do something—you know, fight or run a risk. I thought if I could make that fox look a fool I wouldn’t feel so worried about the other thing. What’s more, it worked—I feel a lot better now.”
As the warren grew, so Woundwort developed his system to keep it under control. Crowds of rabbits feeding at morning and evening were likely to attract attention. He devised the Marks, each controlled by its own officers and sentries, with feeding times changed regularly to give all a share of early morning and sunset—the favorite hours for silflay. All signs of rabbit life were concealed as closely as possible. The Owsla had privileges in regard to feeding, mating and freedom of movement. Any failure of duty on their part was liable to be punished by demotion and loss of privileges. For ordinary rabbits, the punishments were more severe.
“Thlayli, you are very brave. Are you cunning, too? All our lives will depend on you tomorrow.”
“Well, can you see anything wrong with the plan?”
“No, but I am only a doe who has never been out of Efrafa. Suppose something unexpected happens?”
“Risk is risk. Don’t you want to get out and come and live on the high downs with us? Think of it!”
“Oh, Thlayli! Shall we mate with whom we choose and dig our own burrows and bear our litters alive?”
“You shall: and tell stories in the Honeycomb and silflay whenever you feel like it. It’s a fine life, I promise you.”
“I’ll come! I’ll run any risk.”
“You dirty little beast,” said Woundwort. “I hear you’ve attacked one of the Council police and broken his leg. We’ll settle with you here. There’s no need to take you back to Efrafa.”
“You crack-brained slave-driver,” answered Bigwig. “I’d like to see you try.”
“All right,” said Woundwort, “that’s enough. Who have we got? Vervain, Campion, put him down. The rest of you, start getting these does back to the warren. The prisoner you can leave to me.”
“Frith sees you!” cried Bigwig. “You’re not fit to be called a rabbit! May Frith blast you and your foul Owsla full of bullies!”
At that instant a dazzling claw of lightning streaked down the length of the sky. The hedge and the distant trees seemed to leap forward in the brilliance of the flash. Immediately upon it came the thunder: a high, tearing noise, as though some huge thing were being ripped to pieces close above, which deepened and turned to enormous blows of dissolution. Then the rain fell like a waterfall. In a few seconds the ground was covered with water and over it, to a height of inches, rose a haze formed of a myriad minute splashes. Stupefied with the shock, unable even to move, the sodden rabbits crouched inert, almost pinned to the earth by the rain.
A small voice spoke in Bigwig’s mind. “Your storm, Thlayli-rah. Use it.”
Most of the rabbits had very little idea of what was happening. The Efrafan does had never seen a river and it would certainly have been beyond Pipkin or Hawkbit to explain to them that they were on a boat. They—and nearly all the others—had simply trusted Hazel and done as they were told. But all— bucks and does alike—realized that Woundwort and his followers had vanished. Wearied by all they had gone through, the sodden rabbits crouched without talking, incapable of any feeling but a dull relief and without even the energy to wonder what was going to happen next.
That they should feel any relief—dull or otherwise—was remarkable in the circumstances and showed both how little they understood their situation and how much fear Woundwort could inspire, for their escape from him seemed to be their only good fortune.
As Blackavar came up with Hyzenthlay, Bigwig said, “You told us how it would be, didn’t you? And I was the one who wouldn't listen.”
“Told you?” said Blackavar. “I don’t understand.”
“That there was likely to be a fox.”
“I don’t remember, I’m afraid. But I don’t see that any of us could possibly have known. Anyway, what’s a doe more or less?”
Bigwig looked at him in astonishment, but Blackavar, apparently unconcerned either to stress what he had said or to break off the talk, simply began to nibble the grass. Bigwig, puzzled, moved away and himself began to feed a little distance off, with Hyzenthlay and Hazel. […]
“In Efrafa,” said Hyzenthlay, “if a rabbit gave advice and the advice wasn’t accepted, he immediately forgot it and so did everyone else. Blackavar thought what Hazel decided; and whether it turned out later to be right or wrong was all the same. His own advice had never been given.”
When the punt floated down the river in the rain, part of General Woundwort’s authority went with it. He could not have appeared more openly and completely at a loss if Hazel and his companions had flown away over the trees. […] They had suddenly shown their own cunning greater than his, and left him bewildered on the bank. He had overheard the very word—tharn— spoken by one of his officers to another as they returned to Efrafa through the rain. Thlayli, Blackavar and the does of the Near Hind [Mark] had vanished. He had tried to stop them and he had conspicuously failed.
“Rabbits have enough enemies as it is. They ought not to make more among themselves. A mating between free, independent warrens—what do you say?”
At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit’s idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him. The sun dipped into the cloud bank and now he could see clearly the track along the ridge, leading to the beech hanger and the bloodshed for which he had prepared with so much energy and care.
“I haven’t time to sit here talking nonsense,” said Woundwort. “You’re in no position to bargain with us. […] Go and tell Thlayli that if the does aren’t waiting outside your warren, with him and Blackavar, by the time I get down there, I’ll tear the throat out of every buck in the place by ni-Frith tomorrow.”