Psychological critics of literary works approach a novel by looking at it through a psychological lense. Critics will usually look at the motivations of the characters themselves, or, if there is enough known about the author (for example, Shakespeare), they will analyze the authors motivation, or purpose, for the novel. There are several methods to a psychological criticism; some critics use the Freudian approach, where characters, concepts, and even the setting are broken down into various parts (the id, symbols, sexuality, etc.). Some critics use the Jungian approach, where most of the analysis is focused on the main character and villain, such as the different parts of the self and the persona (Burris). There is yet another method, by Charles Mauron, which focuses on the literary works of an author as though they were a dream, and the final stage of analysis connects the works in some meaningful way to the author ("Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism"). Some questions that might be asked are: What are the instinctual motivations for these characters? Is there a part of the mind that is repressing any actions? What effect does this have on the character and storyline? Is there a process of discovery for the character? On the other hand, perhaps a direct opposite of the hero that manifests itself as the villain? Does the character come to understand something that is not understood at the outset? (Dobie, 64)
To apply concepts of a psychological criticism, depending on which method is used (Freudian or Jungian), the easiest place to start would be with the hero, the main supporting characters, and the main villain. From there, pick the main themes from the novel. Are the characters on an adventure? Is there some mystery that must be discovered? Is the novel all about the hero and his psyche? Next, if it is a Freudian approach, look carefully at the different settings in the novel and what takes place in that setting. For example, in a Freudian approach it is very important to point out any symbols or imagery that might have sexual connotations, such as water, phallic imagery, and the relationships between young children and their parents (if applicable) (Burris).
For this novel, Watership Down by Richard Adams, the focus will be on Jungian theory of analysis. The different parts of focus will be: "individuation," the way a character individualizes himself from the rest of the characters; "shadow," which is the darkest part of the self, and usually takes form in the villain; "persona," which is the obvious social personality seen in the novel and expressed or commented on by the other characters; and the "anima," is the soul image of the hero, which can be represented by the heroine, but in this case is represented by the brother (Burris).
The major character in this novel in Hazel, who is accompanied by his brother Fiver for all of the journey. This novel operates on the idea that rabbits have their own little world, complete with hierarchies, communities, or "warrens," mythologies, ideas about creation and family. A journey is undertaken because there is danger that has been prophesized by Fiver, and the leader of the current warren will not evacuate based solely on this knowledge. Hazel decides to take a risk and try to recruit some other rabbits from his warren to leave with him. In the beginning of this journey, Hazel is constantly questioning his role and responsibilities with these rabbits and where they are going to go. The psyche of a rabbit, as explained by Adams, is to fear everything, because there are so many dangers and enemies of the rabbit. Therefore, by the time they take their first rest to sleep, they are all half-terrified of every sound, every object, every animal, but Hazel remains confident is his brother's vision of disaster to keep everyone moving.
Although Hazel is nervous and frightened just like his companions are, he never wavers in his sincerity that somewhere there is a better place for them to settle down and create their own warren. Throughout the novel, and through every twist and turn of their journey, the reader sees Hazel become a different rabbit, and really develops his persona to the others. How Hazel individualizes himself from the rest of the group is to try and make the best decisions possible, by taking opinions of his group, and by conferring with his brother, who has special intuition about certain situations. To the group, Hazel is a leader, but not without earning such a responsibility by the group, and being awarded the authority. In a way, Hazel had to find his leadership within himself, when he previously was unsure about claiming that title.
The other major character, who represents the soul of Hazel, is Fiver, Hazel's brother. He is considered a weaker, smaller rabbit, without much physical strength, but has the capacity to see deeply and thoroughly into any situation. If Hazel is having doubts and needs clarification, Fiver acts as the mirror to Hazel's thoughts. Although Hazel is considered the leader after a traumatic experience, Fiver is never one to "obey" Hazel with blind compliance, but acts as a voice of reason. The other rabbits had thought him unusual because of his acute sensitivities, but came to rely on his extra sense when in dangerous situations, which occur frequently and without warning in this novel.
The other major character in this novel, which makes up the folk and mythological legends that reflect qualities for each of the rabbits, is El-ahrairah, which means Prince with a Thousand Enemies. He supposedly was the "first rabbit" when the earth was made and animals put upon it. Throughout the novel, a character will tell a story with El-ahrairah as the main character, and each of the stories has an important meaning for the situation the rabbits are in at the time. What is interesting is that when Hazel begins the journey unsure of his leadership skills, and unsure even, of what he is doing, the stories are all about a courageous rabbit who will go to any and all lengths to protect his people. In a way, the climax of the novel is Hazel being brave enough, and clever enough to hatch a plan to save his companions, and in this way becomes the legend of El-ahrairah, taking on the qualities of a brave warrior.
And lastly, a novel would not be worth reading without an excellent villain, and Adams has certainly come up with one worth analyzing. After the rabbits have found the spot they want to settle down to, thanks to Fiver for prophesizing the area, Hazel soon realizes there is a dilemma for their kind -- they are all boys. The warren will not last long without some females around to have children and make their warren large and strong. Earlier in the novel, they befriended a seagull, who agrees to go scouting for them to see if there are any rabbits nearby. Indeed, there is a large warren two days away. The villain happens to be the General Woundwort, of the warren the seagull found. An awful rabbit, with the attitude more befitting a rabid dog than a fellow rabbit, the tyrant runs his warren with an iron fist. Woundwort definitely meets all the criteria for a "shadow," a character that is a completely opposite in constitution, behavior, thought process and emotions to Hazel as any character can be. Having no thought for the health of his fellow rabbit, making them stay underground for long periods of time for fear of humans or predators, his warren is suffering and falling apart under his nose. His defining characteristic is the viciousness and contempt he displays for his warren, the ruthlessness he will go to maintain order and authority. This is the type of rabbit that does not gain respect, as Hazel did, but only fear.
There are many major themes to this novel, but the main one is going out to find your own, regardless of the consequences. Psychologically a harrowing journey will bring out the best or worst of some, and in this case rabbits discover they are braver than they thought, or perhaps smarter or cleverer than anyone imagined. The journey produces severe anxiety and conflict for the rabbit group, because they are not used to leaving without a leader, or without permission, and they are all considered young. As rabbits, of course, they are very vulnerable to almost all situations above ground. Eventually, and with many hardships, they do successfully find a place to call their own.
Another theme, which is not only mentioned several times, but also keenly felt between all the members of the troupe, is fear of the unknown. Rabbits have such an intense, physical response to fear, that they can actually become paralyzed with it. This is a well-known fear to rabbits, that once the paralyses has set in, the…