Watership Down


Gender roles

The 1993 Puffin Modern Classics edition of the novel contains an afterword by Nicholas Tucker, who wrote that stories such as Watership Down "now fit rather uneasily into the modern world of consideration of both sexes". He contrasted Hazel's sensitivity to Fiver with the "far more mechanical" attitude of the bucks towards does, who Tucker considers are portrayed as "little more than passive baby-factories".[37]

In "Male Chauvinist Rabbits," an essay originally published in the New York Times Book Review, Selma G. Lanes criticized Adams's treatment of gender. She observed that the first third of the story is a "celebration of male camaraderie, competence, bravery and loyalty as a scraggly bunch of yearling bucks ... arrive triumphant at a prospectively ideal spot", only to realize that they have no females for mating.[38] "Fully the last two-thirds of Adams's saga," Lanes argued, "is devoted to what one male reviewer has blithely labelled The Rape of the Sabine Rabbits, a ruthless, single-minded and rather mean-spirited search for females – not because Watership Down's males miss their companionship or yearn for love, but rather to perpetuate the existing band."[38] For Adams, Lanes continued, the does are only "instruments of reproduction" to prevent the achievement of reaching Watership Down from "becoming a hollow victory."[38] As evidence, Lanes pointed to Hazel and Holly's assessment of the rescued Nuthanger does' value: "it came naturally ... to consider the two Nuthanger does simply as breeding stock for the warren."[39]

Lanes argued that this view of the female rabbits came from Adams himself rather than his source text, Ronald Lockley's The Private Life of the Rabbit. In Lockley's text, by contrast, the rabbit world is matriarchal, and new warrens are always initiated by dissatisfied, young females. Hence, Lanes concluded, Adams's novel is "marred by an attitude towards females that finds more confirmation in Hugh Hefner's Playboy than R. M. Lockley's The Private Life of the Rabbit."[40]

In similar vein, literary critic Jane Resh Thomas stated that Watership Down "draws upon ... an anti-feminist social tradition which, removed from the usual human context and imposed upon rabbits, is eerie in its clarity." Thomas did find much to admire about Watership Down, calling it a "splendid story". For her, its "anti-feminist bias ... damages the novel in only a minor way."[41] She later explained: "I wrote about Watership Down because I was angry and hurt when I read the book. ... I felt he [Adams] had treated me and my kind with a contempt I couldn't be silent about."[42]

Adams' 1996 sequel, Tales from Watership Down includes stories where the female rabbits play a more prominent role in the Watership Down warren. It has been suggested that this might have been an attempt to modernise the story, to make it more in tune with the political sensibilities of the 1990s, when it was published.[43]

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