Gary Paulsen Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Typically, Gary Paulsen’s protagonists grow through necessity. How does nature operate as an ally to the characters? A hindrance? As ambivalent?

Even though the protagonists in each story are pitted against incredible odds and must rise above overwhelming adversity, are these adventure stories or something more complex?

In Paulsen’s fiction, family bonds tend to be broken. How does the dissolution of family operate in his stories, and what does it tell a reader about the nature of the family unit?

What does each protagonist gain from his isolation?

Does Brian’s “rebirth” in Hatchet revert him to a feral state or does he learn to civilize nature?

How does the tone of Paulsen’s realism affect a reader’s sympathy toward the main characters?

How does “civilization” pose a threat to the Inuit culture in Dogsong?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gary Paulsen has written more than two hundred books as well as hundreds of articles and short stories for children and adults. He is best known for his young adult novels, but his first published writings were nonfiction works aimed at adults. The Special War (1966), his first book, shares some of his own experiences along with those of other soldiers as they returned from the Vietnam War. Paulsen has stated that he considers Some Birds Don’t Fly (1968), a satirical piece about problems in the American missile program, to be his first real book. He has also written how-to books on construction topics for adults as well as nonfiction for both young adults and children. In addition, he has written a few children’s books, including The Tortilla Factory (1995).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gary Paulsen’s works for young adults in particular have received numerous awards and honors. In 1997, Paulsen received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing young adult fiction. He also won the Western Writers of America Golden Spurs Award for The Haymeadow (1992). In 1991, The Boy Who Owned the School (1990) won the ALAN Award (presented by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) and received a Parents’ Choice Citation. Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room are all Newbery Honor Books, and in 1985, Tracker won the Society of Midland Authors Award. Dancing Carl (1983) won the American Library Association’s Best Young Adult Books Citation.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Paulsen, Gary. “Gary Paulsen.” Interview by Marguerite Feitlowitz. In Authors and Artists for Young Readers. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1989. In this interview with Paulsen, the author responds with insight and enthusiasm to questions about the origins and development of his central themes and concerns.

Peters, Stephanie True. Gary Paulsen. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Learning Works, 1999. A competent overview of Paulsen’s writing, covering his output through the end of the twentieth century, with a focus on literature for younger readers.

Salvner, Gary M. Gary Paulsen. New York: Twayne/Simon & Schuster, 1996. An excellent study of Paulsen’s life and work, highly responsive to his aims and accomplishments, with a good balance of biographical detail mixed with considerations of individual books. Includes an appendix listing Paulsen’s awards, an index, and a selected bibliography with a list of reviews of his most significant books.