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It is quite clear that the principal theme of this excellent story is that of survival, as we follow the protagonist, Brian Robeson, as he is stranded in the middle of the Canadian wilderness by himself and has to somehow survive until he is found. Note the way that the last name he is given connects him with his major literary ancestor, Robinson Crusoe, who, in the book of that same name similarly finds himself in a battle against the odds for survival.
However, what makes this story much more interesting is the way that Brian is only 13, has no experience of life in the wilderness and is wounded in the crash that leaves him stranded in the middle of such solitude. This of course means that his odds for survival are very different compared to that of the erstwhile and knowledgeable Robinson Crusoe, who is able to apply the reason of the practical man to build and exploit his environment to ensure his survival. Take the following quote from Hatchet, when Brian begins to face up to the situation he is in:
What did they do in the movies when they got stranded like this? Oh, yes, the hero usually found some kind of plant that he knew was good to eat and that took care of it. Just ate the plant until he was full or used some kind of cute trap to catch an animal and cook it over a slick little fire and pretty soon he had a full eight-course meal.
Note the completely unrealistic impression he has of survival in the wilderness. The way he turns to the movies as his source of information reinforces how radically unprepared he is for such an experience.
In addition, let us also remember that this story is also about survival in a completely different sense. Not only is Brian stranded from civilisation, he is also stranded emotionally and psychologically from those nearest and dearest to him, as his parents are recently divorced and Brian knows a secret about his mother's responsibility for that divorce. Note how the memory of this secret is described as being "like a knife cutting into him. Slicing deep into him with hate." Brian thus has to learn to survive emotionally and psychologically as he harbours this secret. Thus the theme of survival in this novel works on many levels.
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