Gary Paulsen Long Fiction Analysis - Essay

Gary Paulsen Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gary Paulsen has written a series of Western novels for adult readers, but he is best known for his action-adventure stories for young adults. He writes many stories of survival in which the main conflict is that of character versus nature, and many of his characters experience rites of passage into adulthood. Some of his best adventure works, such as the Brian books, are parts of series that center on particular characters. Paulsen’s writing style is most often visual, with a stress on realistic settings. Additionally, his novels frequently revolve around imperfect families; often the main character must seek a person other than his or her parents to provide a support system, and many times this person is a part of the character’s extended family. Paulsen has also ventured into humorous novels for a younger audience.


One active character dominates Hatchet, which is ultimately about survival, maturity, and coming to terms with the divorce of one’s parents. One of the main literary tools Paulsen uses in the book is foreshadowing. This is seen in the first chapter as thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, who is setting off to spend the summer with his father, learns how to fly the small plane in which he is traveling while the pilot is still healthy and as he reveals that Brian’s mother has a secret. On the way, the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian is quickly thrust into the role of an adult as he must decide how he will survive not only the plane crash but also being lost in the wilderness.

As Brian faces the next days alone, lost and desperate, he learns to depend on his own common sense to survive. He draws on his limited knowledge of what to do if lost in the wilderness and begins to be proactive, learning along the way. As he faces many character-versus-nature conflicts, Brian also deals with conflicts within himself as he tries to understand the reasons behind his parents’ divorce and his mother’s secret affair. He matures physically and psychologically during the long period he is forced to fend for himself. He learns to protect himself from dangerous animals, to provide food for himself, and to forgive others for what he perceives as their leaving him.

The novel ends with a number of ironic twists: Brian has learned to survive on his own, and yet he has finally recovered the survival kit from the plane; he has learned to accept that he may not be rescued for a long time, and yet he is finally rescued; he has learned that sharing his mother’s secret may not be the best thing for anyone, but that is okay. This novel, the first in Paulsen’s Brian saga, has been followed by others with Brian as the central character, including The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt.

The Voyage of the Frog

Another survival story, The Voyage of the Frog places the story of fourteen-year-old David Alspeth on the Pacific Ocean rather than in the woodlands of the Brian books. David’s uncle Owen has died, leaving the boy his twenty-two-foot sailboat along with the request that his ashes be scattered in the ocean. David sets sail to fulfill this request but does not take the time to think the trip through carefully. He...

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