Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Hatchet is a story that describes a young boy’s adventure in the wilderness, where he learns to be self-sufficient and emotionally secure and to cherish life and all that comes with it, both good and bad. When Brian Robeson finds himself alone in the wilderness, his physical challenges parallel the emotional challenges with which he has been dealing since his parents’ divorce. A steel hatchet with a rubber handgrip worn on his belt becomes his only tool for survival; it symbolizes the strength and maturity that will grow within Brian.

The realistic, omniscient narration begins with Brian’s mother giving him the hatchet and a leather sheath for his belt on the way to the airport. At first, he thinks of the hatchet as “hokey,” but he places it on his belt in order to please his mother. Brian then boards a Cessna 406 bushplane to visit his father for the summer. His father has been working in the Canadian oil fields, and Brian is excited by the thought of being with him again. Once the plane is aloft, however, the pilot has a heart attack. Brian attempts to fly the plane but crashes it into a remote Canadian lake. Dragging himself from the cockpit and swimming to shore, Brian begins to comprehend his situation: He is alone, cold, and wet, without any supplies, without any adults to help him, and without the faintest idea of where he is or what he is supposed to do. All that he has is the hatchet. After the first miserable night near the lake, Brian realizes that he must do something if he wants to survive, and he tries to recall everything that he knows about survival. Through many trials and errors, he learns that his hatchet can be used to make shelter, design tools, hunt food, and protect him.

Through all these physical challenges, Brian dwells on “the secret” that he alone knows about his parents’ divorce: He had seen his mother meeting with another man before his parents were divorced. His struggle to keep this secret gnaws at his emotional well-being until it becomes all-consuming. While facing nature’s challenges, however, Brian becomes aware that life is indeed not fair, that one must make the best of any situation. He comes to realize that his father and mother are separate entities from himself and that they had their own challenges to face and resolve, issues that had nothing to do with Brian.

In the end, after facing his own mortality several times, Brian also learns that he can rely upon himself for his physical and emotional needs. He has become a mature, less emotionally dependent individual who can survive in the face of diversity and challenge.

Hatchet Setting

Two settings predominate: the sky and the wilderness. The first three chapters occur as the plane is airborne; the remaining seventeen take...

(The entire section is 230 words.)

Hatchet Literary Qualities

Paulsen employs the archetypal situation of romantic fiction: place an individual alone in a vast natural landscape in order to study his...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Hatchet Social Sensitivity

Brian's physical ordeal is realistically described. He experiences injury, fright, and danger. He witnesses the death of the pilot. He is...

(The entire section is 219 words.)

Hatchet Topics for Discussion

1. Is the simple title effective at stimulating interest and identifying the central theme?

2. Brian's invents names for things...

(The entire section is 214 words.)

Hatchet Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Compare Robinson and Brian in one or more of the following ways:

a. their...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Hatchet Related Titles / Adaptations

American School Publishers produced a videocassette version of Hatchet in 1990. Producer/director Cynthia Cowens's version uses a...

(The entire section is 309 words.)

Hatchet For Further Reference

Brown, Muriel W. and Rita Schoch Foudray. "Gary Paulsen." In Newbery and Caldecott Medalists and Honor Book Winners. New York:...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Hatchet Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Jones, J. Sydney. “Paulsen, Gary.” In Something About the Author, edited by Alan Hedblad. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2000.

Moore, John Noell. “Archetypes: The Monomyth in Dogsong.” In Interpreting Young Adult Literature. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook, 1997.

Paulsen, Gary. Father Water, Mother Woods: Essays on Fishing and Hunting in the North Woods. New York: Delacorte Press, 1994.

Paulsen, Gary. Guts: The True Stories Behind “Hatchet” and the Brian Books. New York: Delacorte Press, 2001.

Salvner, Gary. Presenting Gary Paulsen. Boston: Twayne, 1996.

Wood, Susan. “Bringing Us the Way to Know: The Novels of Gary Paulsen.” English Journal 90, no. 3 (January, 2001): 67-72.