Hatchet Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-Epilogue


Brian gets started right away on rebuilding after the tornado. He makes a new fire and collects wood to keep it going, which is difficult because of his lasting injuries from the moose attack. He then builds a new wall for his shelter. It takes him nearly all day, and as he goes to sleep that night, he thinks again about the tail of the plane now sticking up out of the lake, and remembers that it contains survival packs of tools and food. He wonders whether he will be able to find a way to get at it tomorrow.

He feels much better in the morning, and makes a new fish spear to use to catch food. Food gives him strength, and he sets out to build a raft of logs to use to float on the lake and get to the plane. After a day of hard work he finishes the raft he calls ‘Brushpile One’; it is strong enough for him to hold on to and float, even though he cannot stand on it. He tears apart his windbreaker to make a rope to tie the raft to the plane. He is eager to get going now, but reminds himself to be patient, and settles in for the night to try to reach the plane in the morning. Before he falls asleep, he watches the sunset and thinks how beautiful this place is.

The next morning it takes him nearly two hours to swim to the plane with the raft. He is exhausted when he reaches it, and stops to think about how he could get inside the plane, when all of its openings are underwater. He hits the body of the plane in frustration, and to his surprise the aluminum covering easily gives way. Sensing an opportunity, he takes his hatchet and cuts through the aluminum, trying to make a large enough opening for him to fit through. It is going well until he accidentally drops the hatchet—his most precious tool—down to the bottom of the lake.

He screams in anger but stops himself, because that sort of feeling sorry is something the old Brian would have done, not the new one. Instead, this new Brian dives down into the lake to try and get the hatchet back, more than fifteen feet down. He tries multiple times, and finally dives deep enough to fetch the hatchet from the mud. Out of breath, he tries again to hack a hole in the plane's fuselage to get through. After a lot of work he makes a space big enough for him to wiggle through.

The thought of going inside the plane makes him anxious, but he does it, holding his breath and searching around until he finally finds the survival bag. He almost has it when he spots the dead pilot's face. The fish have eaten away at it over the weeks, and the sight of it makes him horribly sick. But he makes it back up to the surface with the bag and composes himself as much as he can, and then begins the long process of pushing himself to shore.

The next day, after a long sleep, he inspects the contents of the bag and finds so many wonderful things. A sleeping bag, a cooking set, matches and lighters, a knife and a compass, a first aid kit, a fishing kit, so many things for him to use. There is even a rifle—holding the gun makes him feel strange, as if he is no longer a part of the woods around him. He places it aside, unsure what to think of it. He finds an emergency transmitter, but when he switches it on it does not appear to work. There is also soap. Finally, there is food—all sorts of freeze-dried meals that could last him a long time.

He knows he has to be careful with the food eventually, but decides to feast first as a treat to himself. He makes a beef and potato dinner with orange drink and peach whip; all he needs to do is add water. As his dinner is cooking, though, a floatplane suddenly appears, landing in the lake. He can hardly believe what he is seeing as a pilot gets out and mentions hearing his emergency transmitter. He knows who Brian is because of all the news stories that have talked about him being lost. Brian stands stock-still, processing it all, and finally introduces himself and offers the pilot some food.

The book's epilogue explains the context of Brian's rescue and what comes after. The pilot was a fur buyer mapping trapping camps. Brian had been stranded for fifty-four days. There were extreme changes in him that would prove to be permanent: his lean, wiry shape, his observation skills, and his appreciation for food. He gets answers about the types of animals and plans he lived off of, and has many dreams about the lake after his rescue. Reporters take pictures of the campsite and give them to Brian to have. Someone wants to write a book, but it never comes to fruition.

Brian's parents are thrilled that he is alive, and at first it looks like they might get back together. This does not happen, however, and Brian does not ever tell his father about the Secret.


Though the tornado is his most devastating setback yet, Brian shows extreme determination in the face of this disaster, ready immediately to begin rebuilding the little haven he has created for himself. New Brian is in full force here, without any traces of the dejected, hopeless person he was when he first became stranded. After the tornado, he manages to build in the span of two days what previously took him months to create, showing how much he has learned about survival and how well his skills have developed.

Brian's most obvious challenges during his time at the lake have been physical; things like tornadoes, moose attacks, and sickness have taken the largest toll on him. However, there are traces of the emotional trauma that can be expected from someone who has gone through what Brian has. These come out as he thinks about and eventually sees the dead pilot. This sight is a frightening reminder of what happened to him, something he had been able to forget about in the commotion of trying to survive but has still always been there in the back of his mind.

The devastating tornado was the climax of the novel, revealing the plane tail that rapidly changed the course of Brian's experience in the forest. Until this point, Brian has focused on surviving by becoming one with nature, by learning how to understand it and use its many offerings to his advantage. After seeing the plane, though, he reverts his efforts to finding the material, manmade items that will facilitate his survival, even though they will take him farther away from the nature he has harmonized with.

The gun is the strongest example of the way Brian's spoils interfere with his relationship with nature. The gun would help him to hunt, yes, but it would also put him at an unfair advantage in the hierarchy that is nature because he would be bringing something manmade, artificial, and unnatural in from the outside. It is easy to think of a handcrafted bow and arrow or a spear as a tool when it is being used to hunt food that is necessary for survival. But because of Brian and humanity's previous association with the object, it is impossible for him to think of a gun as anything but a dangerous weapon.

After Brian finds the survival pack, the novel ends very abruptly. In the span of a few pages, the floatplane pilot catches his radio transmission, lands on the lake, and rescues him. This was a necessary choice by Paulsen; the novel has to end here, because Brian has learned everything he needed to learn. He learned how to survive using only the things around him, learned how to be resourceful and tune his mind to nature's frequency. If he remained in the woods he would now survive off of the pack, rather than use the skills he has cultivated over the weeks. His transformation process is complete, and this is why he must leave.

There are permanent changes in Brian as a result of this experience, not just in the way he looks but also in the way he thinks. While this was a tragedy, he has grown remarkably because of it, developing a resilience and understanding of the world that had not been there before. One thing that has not changed is his parents' relationship; they do not end up getting back together, and the Secret still remains a part of Brian's life. However, what has changed is his ability to deal with it. In the forest, he learned to accept and move through his problems rather than dwell on them, so he no longer allows the Secret to drive him to near insanity the way he used to. His perspective on his life has changed, and he can live more peacefully because of it.