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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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WATERSHIP DOWN STUDY NOTES

CHAPTER 17 - The Shining Wire

Summary

Fiver leaves the warren in the night. When Hazel and Bigwig find him, he tells them that he is leaving because there is no good in the place. Hazel hasnít the heart to force him to go back to the warren. Bigwig, however, is angry. He accuses Fiver of thinking only of himself and of expecting everyone else to jump the minute he has a "feeling in his toe." Angrily he dashes back toward the warren. On the other side of the hedge however, there is suddenly a fearful commotion. Hazel and Fiver approach the gap to find Bigwig lying on his side with a length of twisted copper wire looped about his neck and pulled tight against a peg that has been driven into the ground. Bigwig has run into a manmade rabbit snare and about to be choked to death. Hazel remembers hearing about snares but isnít sure what to do. Bigwig is just able to gasp out that they have to dig the peg out as it does no good to bite the wire. Hazel sends Fiver to the warren to get help, and together Dandelion, Blackberry, Buckthorn, Pipkin and Fiver eventually get the peg loose, but Bigwig seems to be dead.

Fiver relates the reaction of the rabbits in the warren. Cowslip and Strawberry had pretended not to hear. Then Cowslip scratched Fiver and told him to keep quiet. Just then Bigwig chokes out a response, and the other rabbits quickly help him get the wire off his neck. He wants to go back to the warren and kill all the cowards. At first the other rabbits are willing, but Fiver speaks up and tells them they are fools. The snare explains everything.


Fiver has figured out the story of the strange warren. They were once a big warren, but were nearly killed off by numerous enemies. But a few survived and the farmer got the idea of keeping the rabbits where they were rather than raising them in hutches. So he killed off the other natural enemies of the rabbits and then began feeding them so they would get used to running freely about in the meadow. Whenever he wanted rabbit meat or furs he would simply set a few snares, not enough to kill them all or drive them away. They forgot the ways of wild rabbits and the lessons of their own folk stories. Instead they sang songs and danced in ceremonious greetings. The only rule they had was that no rabbit could ask where another had gone, and no one could ever speak of the shining wire.

Then the Sandleford rabbits showed up. According to Fiver, the stories of their adventures were unwanted because such stories would shame the Cowslip rabbits. But the reason they had invited the Sandleford bunch into their burrow was because it would provide some new rabbits for the snares, thus preserving some of their own lives a little longer.

When Fiver finishes, even Bigwig realizes that he has been wrong. They agree that they must begin again to head for the distant hills. Just then Strawberry comes along, running crazily. He wants them to take him with them. They offer to get Nildro-hain but Strawberry tells them that she too has been caught by the wires.

Notes

The Cowslip rabbits have been living in a state of denial. Rather than solve their problem, they have become a victim of it. They have also become hardened to the idea of death and no longer bother to protect each other. Each time a rabbit is snared, the rest know they will live a bit longer until the next time the man wants a rabbit. The story here begins to have some political overtones, suggesting the dehumanizing of a society that is dulled by unearned provision and then victimized by the very hand that is feeding them. In such an environment, living for the moment and hoarding as much as possible is the primary goal. In the warren, the rabbits regularly hoard the scraps the man scatters for them. This way they are guaranteed a source of food without always having to find it in the meadow.

 

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