Hatchet Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does author Gary Paulsen use repetition in Hatchet?

    For Brian to survive in the forest, he must constantly retain his composure and make rational decisions, even when things seem to go terribly wrong. He must stop thinking about the world that he has left and focus only on the tasks at hand. In order to do this, he frequently repeats things in his mind in order to keep himself on track. Paulsen represents these repetitive thoughts through lines like "there were these things to do," emphasizing that Brian has hyper-focused on what he needs to do to survive in order to keep out upsetting thoughts of home and self-pity.

  2. 2

    Why is the novel called "Hatchet"?

    After the plane crashes, Brian finds himself in the forest with nothing but a hatchet on his belt. Over time, the hatchet proves to be the most useful tool he could possibly have: it allows him to make fire, hunt for food, and build a shelter. Without the hatchet, it is unlikely that he would have been able to survive his time in the woods. Having the hatchet also gave him the psychological confidence he needed to keep going. Because of the vital role that this tool played in his survival, it is only fitting that the novel be called Hatchet.

  3. 3

    What important lessons does Brian learn about nature over the course of his time in the forest?

    Brian needs to become a part of nature in order to survive, so he learns a lot about the way it functions while he is stranded. He figures out the way creatures in nature see things; they perceive the whole thing, not merely selected parts, because this allows them to take in their entire environment. He learns that in nature, everything happens for a reason, and as such, nature does not waste. He also learns how important it is to allow nature to take its course, to respect it and the creatures it holds. Brian develops a mutual respect with both the bear and the wolves, showing that they accept him as a part of his domain.

  4. 4

    How do Brian's feelings about the Secret change over time?

    Before the plane crash and in its immediate aftermath, all Brian can think about is the Secret and the way it has torn his family apart. Even while he is trying to focus on survival, thoughts of the past and what he saw continually plague him. While stranded in the forest, however, he eventually comes to terms with it, accepting that the past does not need to torment him and that he should instead focus on the immediate present. By the end of the novel, he still has not told his father about the Secret, a sign that he is comfortable holding it in his own mind for the time being.

  5. 5

    Would Brian have undergone the same transformation had he found the survival pack much earlier? Why or why not?

    The survival pack from the crashed plane contains numerous lifesaving items that would certainly have kept Brian alive had he found it earlier. The difference, though, is that these items are all manmade, created for ease of use by "city people," the kind of person Brian is before the crash. Because he did not have these items, Brian had to learn how to become a part of nature, how to use all of the things in his environment and make the most of what he has available. Had he been solely relying on manmade items that gave him what he wanted instantly, he would not have learned the important values of patience and perseverance.

  6. 6

    How does Brian's physical transformation mirror his psychological transformation?

    Brian only looks at his reflection in the water a few times over the course of his time in the forest, and each time he sees someone different. The epilogue also notes the way he has physically changed. He has slimmed down, lost his baby fat, become leaner and more muscular. His face has tanned, scarred, and taken on a new seriousness. Brian's new appearance reflects the way he has physically grown up during his ordeal, the same way he has mentally matured, now viewing the world in an entirely different way.

  7. 7

    Why does finding the rifle make Brian feel so uncomfortable?

    Brian has had to spend many weeks rediscovering the basic tools that helped humanity survive before any sort of artificial, factory products existed. He has used elements in his environment to survive, becoming one with nature in this way. The gun represents the intrusion of mankind on nature, bringing in a dangerous object from the outside world that was not meant to be there and could upset the fragile balance of things. The gun represents a huge change in lifestyle, so naturally Brian is not comfortable with it.

  8. 8

    What roles do sleep and dreaming play in this novel?

    Particularly in the immediate aftermath of the crash, Brian spends a lot of time sleeping. His dreams serves to both reflect his thoughts of the past—like when he dreams about the Secret—and also provide him with useful insights that help him survive, like his dream about his father and Terry making fire. Beyond this, sleeping continues to serve an extremely important purpose for the entirety of the two months that Brian spends stranded. Sleeping is his chance to recharge, to recover the energy he needs to keep pushing on during the day.

  9. 9

    In what sense is the disappearance of the search plane the turning point in the novel?

    After Brian fails to signal the search plane, he enters into a psychological rut of self-pity and depression. Though he has experienced these thoughts before, this occasion is the worst of all of them, and he even thinks about suicide. But he is able to overcome this depression and keep moving forward, marking his transformation to the new Brian at last.

  10. 10

    Why does Paulsen choose to fast-forward in the second part of the novel to the point at which Brian has already been in the forest for weeks?

    Author Paulsen makes the distinct choice to tell the second part of the novel as flashbacks, after Brian has already spent much time in the forest. Brian recounts the events that had brought him to that point with the kind of wisdom that can only come from experience. This was an effective choice, because it allows us to fully see the contrast between the old Brian and the new Brian. If he had told the story in complete chronological order, the transformation would have happened gradually and would not have been as distinct and noticeable.