Civic Imagination

Watership Down

Based in Hampshire, England, Watership Down is a political allegory based on global socio-political models of the 20th century that features rabbits as characters. The novel and film both feature the struggles of the Watership Down warren in their travels across the English countryside and their fight for survival from a variety of perils, including other rabbits themselves. From leaving their home warren in order to survive an impending disaster which their leaders ignore, through being at war with an oppressive warren under the command of General Woundwort or seeing death to the eye through the dangers that human create, to finally reaching the peaceful warren they wished for from the very beginning, the story is a thriller about survival with political motivations.

I encountered the story in my teens during literature class at the British School back home, and while initially I was reluctant about it as any other schoolboy is about school reading, I was hooked the moment I started reading. Its main appeal was the use of political undertones to fuel the narrative of migration within an extraordinarily built world.

Through the use of rabbits as characters, author Richard Adams lead me into believing the plot would be tame and “cuddly”, nonetheless it is the entire opposite as it uses the savage reality of nature, in combination with political systems, as a critique of the right wing. The story was easy for me read into as the critique of each political system is done by separating each system across four warrens that have different ways of thinking, ranging from standard Conservatism, through leaders reluctant to change and believe things work the way they are despite other circumstances suggesting otherwise, through liberalism and the left wing in shape of freedom and equality of the protagonists which clashes with an opposing warren based on hierarchies and ranks in a far right-styled dictatorship. The last warren, despite not having a highly impactful role, is an amazing critique of how societies trade their humanity and freedom of speech for safety, security and comfort.

Not only do I find the political tones very appealing, but with the story being entirely based on a journey and as an immigrant myself, this story speaks to me in my own journey to define "home". Having lived in four countries and rarely feeling comfortable in one place makes me feel a lot like the rabbits of Watership Down as they suffer to find the home they wish for so much.

Despite it not being explicitly referenced in contemporary political discussion, I believe Watership Down has very high potential to inspire people across two levels: political uprising and migration. The first being the "revolution" that this small group of rabbits from Sandleford warren initiate in order to escape certain death whilst also looking for a new home, then encountering two other systems on the road that made them feel uncomfortable or endangered.

The second level being that of the travel that finding Watership Down represents for the rabbits, especially in shape of the rabbits' struggles to find a new home, as much like myself other migrants may feel that finding a true home is a challenge and thus the story may tell them that there is still hope despite a journey that seems everlasting and finding places where they may feel unwelcome.

I have shared this story with various friends and colleagues, yet very few of them have identified after I have spoken about my views and analysis of the story. Nonetheless I consider this is a good thing, as it makes the story and its significance more unique for me, which in turn was the original reason I intended to share it with others as I wanted them to understand my feeling as a person that is constantly migrating.

Watership Down full film:
Woundwort v. Bigwig (Opression v. Freedom):

Critique, Politics, Migration, Rabbits, England, UK,

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