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The first paragraph of Watership Down:

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes...
Quote from Chapter 1: The Notice Board

The last paragraph:

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
Quote from the Epilogue

The repetition of primroses at the very start and end of the book seems to be somehow important. Is there some symbolic meaning to how the primroses are "over" at the start and "beginning to bloom" at the end? Is there something about primroses in particular which would help explain the repetition?

Why are primroses emphasized at the start and end of Watership Down?

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    Connection with the time of year? Primroses often symbolise springtime.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 10 '20 at 19:13
  • Even more so when them being over sends a generally bleaker outlook than the optimism of their beginning bloom. So I'd say the fact that they are repeated and basically frame the story this way (temporally as well as emotionally) is probably more important than the exact species of being primroses rather than any other similar flower. But I guess that can ultimately go into possible answers. Dec 10 '20 at 19:26
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Primroses symbolise springtime.

Primroses are among the first flowers to start blooming in the springtime, sometimes called the heralds of spring. Even their name in English comes from "prima rosa", meaning "first rose", alluding to the fact that they're one of the first flowers to appear at the start of the season.

With this in mind, their appearance at the start and end of Watership Down makes a lot of sense. Chapter 1 marks the beginning of the end of Hazel's youth as an outsider in the Sandleford warren, the "springtime" of his life, preceding his growth into authority and the position of Chief Rabbit later in the story. Starting the story with the sentence "The primroses were over", the writer is planting1 the idea of an impending life change into readers' heads from the very beginning. The primroses are over, spring is well underway, so what comes next? Let's get this show on the road!

The ending of the whole story, meanwhile, is a hopeful one. Even though it ends with the main character's death, he doesn't die painfully but peacefully; he doesn't feel hopeless but ready; he knows that he's created a community that will outlast him, which in the end is the best any of us can hope for when we go. Ending the story with "the first primroses were beginning to bloom", as well as being a literal reminder of the time of year, also serves as a symbolic reminder that life goes on, lifetimes end just like seasons, and neither the world nor Hazel's warren will end when he does, even though the story does.

We could get deeper into the symbolism of flowers, and try to extract some even deeper meaning of primroses in the plot, but I feel like that would be over-analysing. The connection between primroses and springtime, and metaphorically the seasons of one's life, is enough to justify their appearance bookending the Watership Down story, without need for more advanced symbolic analysis which the author might never have done either.


1 Pun unintended this time.

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