Setting

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Woodsong, set in northern Minnesota and Alaska, shows the strong wilderness focus that is seen in many of Paulsen's books. With his keen sense of observation, Paulsen turns from hunting and trapping and becomes a student of nature or the environment; he observes it and changes because of those observations. In the woods, he finds beauty, violence, humor, and wisdom. But, above all, he realizes that he must take the time and the effort to learn from what he sees.

Literary Qualities

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Writing about the woods and the animals, Paulsen uses imagery, metaphors, similes, and alliteration to create vivid descriptions. Hawk, the banty hen, "launches herself like a speckled red missile" as she attacks across the yard. When Paulsen is canoeing a river, he describes it as a "flat, winding river that cuts through the woods like a sluggish snake." Even during the running of the Iditarod when survival is primary in his mind, Paulsen sees a peak covered with snow and "it is like a cathedral." Another time, the sparkle of the winter's ice and snow can be seen when he writes about "the diamond that is northern winter."

In Woodsong, Paulsen writes with an emotional intensity that is appropriate for what can be termed his vision quest or his spiritual searching for an understanding of nature. In addition, he uses a diverse pattern of sentence structures to reinforce the feelings and the drama in his descriptions. To show the increasing tension of a scene, he may write with clipped sentences, stark language, terse writing, and sentence fragments that reflect the seriousness of the situation. For example, at the beginning of the Iditarod, Paulsen worries about not finishing the race. "To scratch. Before the race it is spoken of as a disease. I am a leper, I will scratch—it is the same. Many will, but nobody wants to. Everyone wants to finish." Yet, at other times, he uses long run-on sentences to express sadness. When Storm dies, Paulsen writes the following: "When I came back the next day I went to the kennel and there was silence until I came close and then the dogs went into the death song, which sounds much like the rain song, and I knew then Storm was gone."

In addition to varying sentence structure, Paulsen also uses repetition to create a mood, as in the following description of how tired he becomes during the Iditarod. "I am tired beyond belief. Beyond how it was in the army. Beyond anything I have known, I am tired." Earlier in Minnesota, after Cookie teaches him a lesson about the importance of listening to the instincts of his dogs, he reflects on his own stupidity. "If I wanted to be stupid, if I persisted in being stupid, if I just couldn't resist being stupid, then she figured I had it coming."

Just as Paulsen can write very serious descriptions of the stark realities of nature, he can also relate incidents that are filled with humor. When Wilson, the lead dog who is "dumber than a walnut," cuts his foot during the Iditarod, Paulsen takes a bootie that was accidentally frozen in soda slush and puts it on Wilson's leg. The next image that Paulsen gives the reader is one of Wilson "running on three legs sucking on his foot."

Social Sensitivity

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Woodsong is a very realistic account of a man and his experiences in the wilderness. It shows the violence of nature, the killing of animals, and the terror of animals who are being hunted by other animals. Unlike a wildlife film that cuts away before the wolf kills the...

(This entire section contains 220 words.)

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deer or a book that provides a clinical or technical description, Paulsen describes the scene. As he says in chapter one of the book, "Wolves do not kill clean." He then proceeds to describe, in detail, the "slow, ripping, terrible death" and the "pulling and jerking and tearing" that happens while the deer is "still on her feet, still alive." Paulsen provides a picture in words of the brutal viciousness of wild creatures. In addition, he describes the extreme cold, the hallucinations, the horrible rumors of disaster, and the real dangers of the Iditarod and of the wilderness itself. However, all of these descriptions are accurate and are a vital part of the lessons that Paulsen learns from the woods.

Although the author decides never to hunt again, Woodsong is not an anti-hunting book whose sole purpose is to preach against all forms of hunting. In this autobiography, Paulsen is making a statement about his personal beliefs, how he came to those beliefs, and why he feels the way he does.

For Further Reference

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Holtze, Sally Holmes, ed. Sixth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1989. Includes brief information on Paulsen's life as well as his autograph and a small portrait.

Garrett, Agnes, and Helga P. McCue, eds. Authors & Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 2. Detroit, Gale, 1989. Contains background information on Paulsen's writings, career, and honors as well as a detailed discussion of his life and his works.

Lesniak, James G., ed. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Vol. 30. Detroit: Gale, 1990. Provides an overview of Paulsen's life, a list of his writings, and a brief discussion of his work.

Raymond, Allen. "Gary Paulsen: Artist- With Words." In Teaching K-8 22 (August/ September 1992): 52-54. A full-page color portrait accompanies a discussion of Paulsen's interesting life.

Senick, Gerard J., ed. Children's Literature Review. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale, 1990. Includes a general commentary on Paulsen's life and his works as well as excerpts from reviews of his works, including novels such as Dancing Carl, Tracker, Dogsong, Sentries, The Crossing, Hatchet, and The Island.

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