"He was alone. In the roaring plane with no pilot he was alone. Alone."
It is a profound and frightening moment when Brian realizes what has happened to the pilot flying his plane, and he attempts to come to terms with the situation he is now in. The word alone is repeated three times, stressing how isolated Brian really is in this plane far above everything else. This is the first time that Brian is challenged by isolation, and this solitude will only continue as he finds himself stranded in the forest.
"The memory was like a knife cutting into him. Slicing deep into him with hate. The Secret."
Knowledge of the Secret torments Brian throughout the entire novel, but particularly at the beginning. Chapter 4 is the first time readers learn what this secret actually is: that Brian witnessed his mother cheating on his father while they were still married, kissing an unknown man in a car in the mall parking lot. His time in the forest distanced from his family for long enough to come to terms with the Secret and not let it define his life any longer.
"Brian ha once had an English teacher, a guy named Perpich, who was always talking about being positive, thinking positive, staying on top of things."
Inspiration often comes from unexpected sources, and it is thoughts of his old English teacher, Perpich, that keep Brian motivated even though all seems hopeless. Perpich's mantra of positivity and determination becomes Brian's lifeline throughout this whole ordeal, as he fights to stop feeling sorry for himself and keep moving forward even though he does not know what the outcome will be.
"For the first time since the crash he was not thinking of himself, or his own life. Brian was wondering if the bear was as surprised as he to find another being in the berries."
This quote marks one of the first times Brian begins to think not just about himself, but also about the way the rest of nature, especially its living creatures, functions. The bear he encounters in the berry bushes respects his presence, and in turn he respects its presence, a key step in understanding the natural world around him enough to find his place in it.
"I have a friend, he thought—I have a friend now. A hungry friend, but a good one. I have a friend named fire."
Brian's first thought when he manages to create fire is not about protection or utility, but rather about companionship. The fact that he views fire as a companion indicates that even after only a few days he has begun to be bothered by his isolation in the forest. It is in human nature to flock to others for support and companionship, and, stranded out in the forest, Brian must spend far too much time on his own. However, this results in extensive introspection that allows him to further discover himself.
"None of that used to be in Brian and now it was a part of him, a changed part of him, a grown part of him, and the two things, his mind and his body, had come together as well, had made a connection with each other that he didn't quite understand."
A few days into his isolation, Brian begins to notice a change in himself: a change in the way he perceives the world. He has started to think like the creatures of the forest, aware of everything around him and taking in all parts of everything, noticing as much as he can because it all contributes to his survival. Since this is a coming-of-age novel in which the main character transforms in some way, moments like these—when Brian is aware of his own transformation—are important.
"He could not play the game without hope; could no play the game without a dream. They had taken it all away from him now, they had turned away from him and there was nothing for him now. The plane gone, his family gone, all of it gone. They would not come. He was alone and there was nothing for him."
This scene is an important turning point in the novel, marking the final shift from old Brian to new Brian. When the search plane passed him by, Brian experienced a short-lived but intense depression that even had him wishing he were dead. He needs to experience this low in order to turn his mentality around, so that he could begin to survive for the sake of surviving, not merely in the hope of being rescued.
"In the city if he made a mistake usually there was a way to rectify it, make it all right...Now it was different, and all so quick, all so incredibly quick."
The stark difference between city and wilderness often makes it difficult for Brian to adapt to life in the forest, and one of the biggest obstacles is the difference between making mistakes there versus making mistakes here. But while mistakes in the forest can often be disastrous, they also teach Brian incredibly important things and allow him to master the art of survival through trial and error.
"But there is a difference now, he thought—there really is a difference. I might be hit but I'm not done. When the light comes I'll start to rebuild. I still have the hatchet and that's all I had in the first place."
In the span of only a day, a moose attacks Brian and a tornado hits his camp, severely injuring him and destroying everything he has built. The old Brian would have given up and wallowed in self-pity, but this new Brian bounces back fast, determined to continue fighting for survival and much more confident about his abilities than he was when he first came here.
"Many of the changes would prove to be permanent. Brian had gained immensely in his ability to observe what was happening and react to it; that would last him all his life. He had become more thoughtful as well, and from that time on he would think slowly about something before speaking."
The epilogue orients readers with everything that happened after Brian was rescued, and this particular section takes note of the permanent changes that Brian has undergone as a result of his time in the forest. As is necessary in a bildungsroman, the things that Brian has learned and the ways that he has changed do not suddenly reverse when he returns to city life. Instead, they are ingrained in him, and even though the experience was traumatic in a lot of ways, it was extremely beneficial in others.
Hatchet Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Hatchet is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.