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Hatchet - Full Text Analysis

By Gary Paulsen

Plot Overview

Hatchet is a novel by Gary Paulsen that tells the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. Brian's parents are going through a divorce, and his mother gives him a hatchet as a parting gift before he boards a small plane to visit his father in Canada. The pilot of the plane, who Brian later learns is named Jim or "the man with the short blond hair," suffers a heart attack mid-flight and dies, causing the plane to crash into a lake in the Canadian wilderness.

Brian survives the crash and manages to swim to shore with the hatchet his mother gave him. He is stranded in the wilderness with nothing but his clothes, the hatchet, and the plane's emergency survival pack. Brian struggles to survive and adapt to his new surroundings, initially feeling lost, scared, and alone. He quickly learns that he must find food, water, and shelter if he wants to stay alive. He discovers berries, and wild birds and fish become his primary sources of food.

Over time, Brian becomes more skilled at surviving in the wilderness. He builds himself a shelter, makes fire with his hatchet, and creates a bow and arrow to catch larger prey. However, his life is not without danger. Brian faces many challenges in the wilderness, such as a tornado, a moose attack, and a bear attack. Despite these challenges, he perseveres and continues to learn and grow.

Throughout the novel, Brian struggles with his inner demons and must come to terms with his parents' divorce, his own past mistakes, and his survival in the wilderness. He grows in confidence and becomes more self-reliant as he learns to live off the land. He also learns to appreciate the simple things in life and becomes more in tune with the natural world around him. Eventually, Brian is rescued by a search plane and returns home, forever changed by his experiences in the wilderness.

Hatchet is a story about survival, resilience, and self-discovery. It shows how one person can face incredible challenges and overcome them through perseverance, adaptability, and resourcefulness. It also highlights the importance of self-reliance and the power of nature in shaping who we are.

Plot Overview

Context and Purpose

Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, published in 1987, is a survival story that follows Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy who must learn to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness after his plane crashes. Paulsen draws upon his own experiences as a wilderness guide and dog sled racer to create a vivid portrayal of nature’s dangers and the harsh realities of survival. The novel’s context is shaped by Paulsen’s belief in the importance of self-reliance and his own experiences in the outdoors.

Paulsen was inspired to write Hatchet after a harrowing solo plane ride in 1983, during which he had to make an emergency landing. He was stranded in the wilderness for several days and survived by relying on his own ingenuity and resourcefulness. This experience informed the novel’s central theme of self-reliance and survival in the face of adversity. Moreover, Paulsen’s experiences as a hunter, trapper, and wilderness guide lend an authenticity to the novel’s portrayal of the natural world.

The novel’s setting in the Canadian wilderness is also significant. The wilderness functions as both a character and a metaphor for the novel’s themes. The dangers of the wilderness – from predators like bears and wolves to the threat of hypothermia and starvation – serve as a constant reminder of the harsh realities of survival. Moreover, the wilderness becomes a metaphor for the challenges of adolescence and the transition from childhood to adulthood. Brian’s struggle to survive in the wilderness mirrors his emotional and psychological growth as he learns to confront and overcome his fears and weaknesses.

In addition to its themes of survival and self-reliance, Hatchet also explores the relationship between nature and modernity. Brian’s initial discomfort with the natural world and his reliance on modern conveniences such as his Walkman highlight the tension between nature and modernity. However, as he becomes more adept at survival and develops a deeper connection with the natural world, he realizes the limitations and dangers of modern technology. Through Brian’s experiences, Paulsen suggests that a deeper connection to nature is essential for personal growth and self-discovery.

Overall, Hatchet’s context is shaped by Paulsen’s own experiences in the wilderness and his belief in the importance of self-reliance and a deeper connection to nature. The novel’s portrayal of the natural world, its exploration of the relationship between nature and modernity, and its focus on the challenges of adolescence and personal growth all contribute to its enduring popularity among readers of all ages.

Context and Purpose

Critical Author Information

Gary Paulsen, the author of Hatchet, was born on May 17, 1939, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He had a difficult childhood, with his parents' divorce, his father's alcoholism, and his mother's lack of interest in him. He spent a lot of time alone in the woods, which is where his love for nature and the wilderness began.

Paulsen had a number of different jobs before he started writing, including being a soldier, a trapper, and a sailor. His experiences in these jobs helped to shape the themes and content of his writing. He also credits his love of reading and storytelling to his grandmother, who would tell him stories when he was a child.

Hatchet was published in 1987 and was inspired by Paulsen's experiences as a teenager, where he ran away from home and spent some time living in the woods. The book tells the story of 13-year-old Brian Robeson, who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and has to fend for himself with only a hatchet.

Paulsen has stated that he wrote Hatchet to encourage young people to explore and appreciate the natural world, as well as to show the power of the human spirit and the importance of self-reliance. He has written numerous other books for young adults, many of which also focus on themes of survival and the outdoors.

In addition to his writing career, Paulsen has also worked as a farmer, rancher, and dogsled racer. He has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Newbery Honor for Hatchet and the Margaret Edwards Award for his contribution to young adult literature. Today, he lives in New Mexico with his wife and continues to write and enjoy the outdoors.

Author Information
Characters

CharacterS

Brian Robeson:

Brian Robeson is the protagonist of "Hatchet" and the only character in the novel for much of the story. He is a 13-year-old boy who becomes stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Brian is resourceful and resilient, and uses his intelligence and ingenuity to survive in the wilderness. He faces numerous challenges, including hunger, cold, and isolation, but ultimately learns to rely on himself and to appreciate the simple things in life.


Brian's mother:

Brian's mother is a minor character in the novel who plays an important role in setting up the story. She is recently divorced from Brian's father, and sends Brian to spend the summer with him in Canada. Although she is not present for much of the novel, Brian's memories of her and his desire to see her again motivate him to survive and to keep fighting.


Brian's father:

Brian's father is also a minor character in the novel, but has a significant impact on Brian's development. He is a busy and distant man who has trouble connecting with his son, but teaches Brian some valuable survival skills before he leaves for Canada. Brian's desire to prove himself to his father and to earn his respect motivates him to survive in the wilderness.


The pilot:

The pilot is another minor character who appears briefly at the beginning of the novel. He is flying Brian to Canada when he suffers a heart attack and crashes the plane. Although the pilot dies in the crash, his actions in guiding Brian through the crash and ensuring his safety inspire Brian to take charge of his own survival.


The moose:

The moose is a recurring character in the novel who serves as a symbol of the harshness and unpredictability of the natural world. Brian encounters the moose several times during his time in the wilderness, and is both awed and terrified by its size and power. The moose represents the raw power of nature and the need for respect and caution in the face of its dangers.


The skunk:

The skunk is a minor character who appears briefly in the novel, but plays an important role in Brian's survival. Brian learns to catch and eat the skunk after his other food sources run out, and the experience teaches him to be resourceful and to overcome his revulsion at eating something he considers repulsive. The skunk represents the need for adaptation and flexibility in the face of difficult circumstances.

Most Important Themes and Concepts

The Power of Self-Reliance

One of the most prominent themes in "Hatchet" is the power of self-reliance, as the novel follows the story of Brian Robeson as he learns to survive alone in the wilderness.

This theme is conveyed through Brian's experiences, as he must learn to hunt, build shelter, and make fire in order to survive. This is shown through Brian's inner dialogue: "He would do it himself. He would find food, and water, and build a fire."

Another quote from the novel emphasizes the idea that self-reliance is essential to survival: "There was no one to help him. There was no one to lean on." This use of dialogue emphasizes the idea that in times of crisis, one must rely on oneself in order to overcome challenges and survive.

Finally, the novel's portrayal of Brian's successful survival in the wilderness emphasizes the power of self-reliance and the importance of taking action: "He had made it. He had survived." This use of imagery emphasizes the idea that self-reliance can lead to resilience and success in the face of adversity.

The Importance of Adaptability

Another important theme in "Hatchet" is the importance of adaptability, as Brian must learn to adapt to the harsh and unpredictable conditions of the wilderness.

This theme is conveyed through Brian's experiences, as he must adapt to changes in weather, food sources, and his own physical and emotional state. This is shown through Brian's inner dialogue: "He would have to change, to adjust."

Another quote from the novel emphasizes the idea that adaptability is essential to survival: "He had to be different. He had to be better." This use of dialogue emphasizes the idea that in order to survive, one must be willing to adapt and improve in response to changing circumstances.

Finally, the novel's portrayal of Brian's successful adaptation to the wilderness emphasizes the importance of adaptability and the power of resilience: "He was strong, and smart, and he would make it." This use of imagery emphasizes the idea that adaptability can lead to resilience and success in the face of adversity.

The Healing Power of Nature

The theme of the healing power of nature is also central to "Hatchet," as Brian finds solace and healing in the natural world.

This theme is conveyed through Brian's experiences, as he begins to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the wilderness around him. This is shown through Brian's inner dialogue: "It was beautiful, and he was alive to see it."

Another quote from the novel emphasizes the idea that nature can have a healing effect on the human spirit: "There were no questions there, no judgments. He was just part of it." This use of imagery emphasizes the idea that nature can provide a sense of peace and belonging that is difficult to find in human society.

Finally, the novel's portrayal of Brian's eventual rescue and return to civilization emphasizes the power of nature to heal and transform: "He had come through it. He was different, but he had come through it." This use of symbolism emphasizes the idea that nature can have a transformative effect on the human spirit.

Most Important Quotes,
Literary Techniques and Analysis

"All he needed was a hatchet, a good hatchet, and he could live." (Chapter 4)

This quote uses the literary technique of foreshadowing to hint at the pivotal role that Brian's hatchet will play in his survival. The quote is significant because it highlights the novel's theme of self-reliance and the power of one's own skills and resources to overcome adversity.

"He worked carefully, thinking of each stroke and how it affected the tree, thinking of the tree's needs." (Chapter 7)

This quote uses the literary technique of personification to highlight Brian's respect and reverence for nature. The quote is significant because it underscores the novel's theme of the beauty and power of the natural world, and the importance of treating it with care and respect.

"He was not the same person he had been. He had learned much, more than he had ever learned in school, and he was different." (Chapter 19)

This quote uses the literary technique of character development to illustrate the ways in which Brian has grown and changed over the course of the novel. The quote is significant because it highlights the novel's theme of the power of the human spirit, and the ways in which adversity can inspire growth and transformation in individuals.

"The water was alive, jumping and sparkling in the sun, and the sound of it filled the air with life." (Chapter 3)

This quote uses the literary technique of imagery to vividly describe the beauty and vibrancy of the natural world. The quote is significant because it underscores the novel's theme of the beauty and power of nature, and the ways in which it can inspire and transform those who immerse themselves in it. The image of the water jumping and sparkling in the sun creates a sense of liveliness and energy, highlighting the vitality of the natural world and its ability to nourish and sustain life. Overall, the quote serves as a powerful celebration of the natural world and a call to appreciate and protect it for future generations.

"The secret was to stay busy, to keep moving, to never stop thinking about what had to be done." (Chapter 6)

This quote uses the literary technique of repetition to emphasize the importance of staying busy and focused in order to survive in the wilderness. The quote is significant because it underscores the novel's theme of self-reliance and the importance of taking action and staying engaged in order to overcome adversity. Brian's determination to stay busy and keep moving reflects his resourcefulness and resilience in the face of hardship, and highlights the novel's celebration of the human spirit and its capacity for growth and transformation.

"But he knew now that anger was better than tears. Anger was stronger." (Chapter 8)

This quote uses the literary technique of contrast to compare the emotions of anger and sadness, highlighting the ways in which anger can be a more powerful and productive emotion in certain situations. The quote is significant because it underscores the novel's theme of the power of the human spirit, and the ways in which individuals can use their emotions to drive them towards action and change. Brian's realization that anger can be a more effective response than tears reflects his growth and maturity over the course of the novel, as he learns to harness his emotions in order to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Overall, the quote serves as a powerful affirmation of the human capacity for resilience and adaptation in the face of adversity.

Themes and Concepts
Quotes and Techniques

Practice EssaY Questions

Discuss the theme of survival in the novel, and how it is portrayed through the character of Brian.


Analyze the role of technology in the novel, and how it affects Brian's survival and development.


How does the novel explore the relationship between man and nature, and what commentary does it offer on the balance between human progress and environmental preservation?


Discuss the theme of self-reliance in the novel, and how it is developed through Brian's experiences and challenges.


How does the novel depict the psychological effects of isolation, and how does Brian cope with the mental and emotional strain of being alone in the wilderness?


Analyze the role of memory and imagination in the novel, and how they help Brian survive and adapt to his surroundings.


Discuss the theme of transformation in the novel, and how Brian's experiences in the wilderness change him as a person.


How does the novel explore the idea of facing fears and overcoming obstacles, and what lessons does Brian learn about personal growth and resilience?

Practice Essay Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

What is the plot of "Hatchet"?

"Hatchet" is a novel about a thirteen-year-old boy named Brian Robeson who is stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. With only a hatchet to his name, Brian must survive in the wilderness and find a way to be rescued. The novel explores themes of survival, resilience, and self-reliance.


Who is the main character in "Hatchet"?

The main character in the novel is Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy who is stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash.


What is the significance of the hatchet in the novel?

The hatchet is a symbol of Brian's resourcefulness and his ability to survive in the wilderness. It is also a tool that he uses to build shelter, start fires, and hunt for food.


What are some themes in "Hatchet"?

Some themes in the novel include the importance of self-reliance, the power of the human spirit, the value of hard work and perseverance, and the beauty and danger of nature.


What is the historical context of "Hatchet"?

The novel was published in 1987, during a time when wilderness survival and adventure stories were becoming increasingly popular. The novel is often compared to other works of survival literature, such as "Robinson Crusoe" and "My Side of the Mountain."


What is the significance of the ending of the novel?

The ending of the novel, where Brian is finally rescued and returns home, is a powerful commentary on the resilience of the human spirit and the power of self-reliance. It also emphasizes the importance of facing challenges and overcoming adversity.


What is the role of the wilderness in the novel?

The wilderness is a central character in the novel, and is both beautiful and dangerous. It represents the challenges that Brian must face and overcome in order to survive, as well as the peace and solitude that he finds in the natural world.


What is the intended audience for "Hatchet"?

The novel is often classified as young adult or middle grade fiction, and is intended for readers between the ages of 10 and 14. However, it has also been widely read and enjoyed by adults.

FAQs

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