Discussion Topic

Matt's experiences and lessons learned from the Indians in "The Sign of the Beaver."


Matt's experiences with the Indians in The Sign of the Beaver teach him survival skills, respect for different cultures, and the value of friendship. He learns how to fish, hunt, and live off the land, gaining a deep appreciation for the Indians' way of life and forming a strong bond with Attean, which helps him grow in maturity and self-reliance.

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In "The Sign of the Beaver," what did Matt learn about the Indians from Ben?

In The Sign of the Beaver, the main character, Matt, is visited by a beaver trapper by the name of Ben.  Ben, a large and imposing figure, invites himself to dinner and Matt feels obliged to feed and invite him to spend the night. After dinner, Ben shares the following about Indians.  First he explains that most of the Indians have left the immediate area. "What wasn't killed off in the war got took with the sickness.  A deal of 'em moved on to Canada" (15).  Then, Ben explains that the only Indians left are the Penobscot. "The Penobscots stick like burrs, won't give up" (15).  Ben informs Matt that the Indians know how to speak a little bit of English.  He also lets Matt know that the Indians move around a lot in order to avoid bugs or find food.  "...they got enough sense to clear out of these parts when the bugs is bad.  They move off, the whole lot, down to the coast to get their year's mess of clams...they'll stay the summer and then go off for the big hunt come fall" (15).  Even though Ben takes advantage of Matt and ends up stealing his father's gun, Ben does learn from the experience.  He learns about the nearby tribe of Indians, and he learns to trust his instincts when it comes to sizing up visitors.

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What skills does Matt learn from the Indians in The Sign of the Beaver?

In exchange for teaching Attean how to read, Matt learns some important survival skills from his Indian counterpart.

The first thing Attean teaches Matt is how to hunt rabbits. In Chapter 9, Attean shows Matt how to fashion a snare from trimmed saplings, a sturdy branch, and the roots of a black spruce tree.

In Chapter 10, Attean shows Matt how to carve a fish hook from a maple sapling twig. He uses his sharp knife to carve a piece as long as his little finger, makes a groove in the middle of the small stem, and sharpens both ends of the stem. With this hook, Matt discovers that he can use two worms to land a bigger catch. Also, armed with the knowledge to make new hooks whenever he pleases, Matt discovers that he will never have to worry about losing hooks again.

When Attean makes a fire to cook the fishes, Matt again learns something new. Attean uses a regular stone that has bits of quartz embedded in it to strike against his knife; in this way, Attean is able to kindle a spark for the fire. Until now, Matt had not realized that he could use "a common stone as well as his flint" to begin a fire. As for roasting the fish over the fire, Attean shows Matt how to use green branches to fashion make-shift spits for the fish.

In Chapter 11, Matt learns how to leave "secret signs" or "markers" so that he will never get lost in the forest. To demonstrate, Attean sometimes breaks off branches on a path, sets stones in prominent places, or dangles tufts of grass in tree branches as he travels through the forest. Later, Attean cuts off two pieces of dried sap from a spruce tree and presents one to Matt as a snack. Although initially skeptical about the taste of the dried sap, Matt soon comes to discover that the aftertaste is actually quite pleasant. So, from Attean, Matt also learns what he can use for food in the forest.

In Chapter 12, Matt learns how to fashion a bow from ash branches. From Attean, he learns how to use a stone to carefully form the curve of the bow, how to use bear fat to make the bow glisten, and how to use spruce roots to make the bowstring. Later, he also learns how to use birch wood to fashion the arrows.

In Chapter 13, Attean teaches Matt how to use plants from the forest to make a particular dish tastier and more nourishing. He also shows Matt how to fashion a makeshift rain cape from a strip of birch bark. More importantly, Matt learns which plants he must avoid in order stay alive.

In all these chapters, Matt learns many skills from Attean: he learns how to hunt and fish, how to pick the best plants for food, and how to fashion hunting implements.

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