Hatchet Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-13


Brian busies himself with doing all the things that needs to be done in order to keep away the depression he feels when he thinks about how they have not found him yet. He takes the eggs from the beach to store in his shelter, adds wood to the fire, and cleans up his camp. He gathers enough wood to keep the fire going for three days, and during this process, catches a glimpse of his reflection in the lake. His wounds from the crash are healing, but he notices that more about his body is changing as well. He has shed any excess weight he had, tanned darkly from constantly being under the sun.

But the biggest change, he realizes, is his mental change. His mind is different. He thinks and hears differently, recognizing the sounds of the forest and automatically knowing what they are before he even registers hearing them. He sees differently, too; when he looks at a bird he sees not just the bird as a whole, but every individual feather, its size and shape, all of those details. Whenever he hears a sound or sees a sight, he reflectively moves towards it, prepared to deal with whatever it is. He is changing.

Next, he tries to build a signal fire. He knows he cannot keep it burning all day, but he makes a bonfire pile ready to set alight at the slightest sound of a plane engine flying by. He builds it at the top of the stone bluff, and looks out over the beautiful lake as he rests. While there, he watches a bird catching fish, and realizes that he can fish for food, too.

He makes a fish spear, sharpening a branch with his hatchet, and tries to stab the fish as they swim by him in the lake. But it does not work; the fish are too fast. He instead tries to make a bow and arrow, stopping to eat an egg and some berries. He is surprised to notice that he feels full after just this, and realizes that his stomach shrunk. As he is cutting tree branches for his bow, he hears a plane engine and sprints to start his signal fire. He imagines what his rescue would be like, and is about to start the fire when suddenly the sound of the plane moves away. He is sure it was a search plane, and now since it had not found anything it would not come back. He was alone.

Time flashes forward. Brian is standing at the edge of the lake, looking for birds—he calls them "foolbirds"—to hunt. He hears a sound and stops, and then spots a wolf standing uphill from the lake, watching him. He is afraid for a moment, but then nods at the wolf; they respect each other. Then the wolf, followed by three other wolves, disappears.

47 days have passed since the crash, and Brian is different. Back when the plane had come and gone, he had been in a bad state and almost given up, letting his fire go out. He felt madness begin to overtake him and he wished for death, but when the sun came up he was born anew and he was determined that he would not die.

He thinks back to milestones and mistakes that he has made in the last 47 days. He had made his bow, but when he shot it for the first time it exploded into splinters and nearly blinded him. He then made a new bow that still missed the fish when it shot. Finally he realized that water refracts, and he had to aim the bow just under where it looked like the fish were in order to actually hit them. Catching his first fish was an incredible moment, and he realized that now that he had figured out how to get food, he had a way to live. He cooked that fish and more that he caught over the fire, and nothing ever tasted so good.


Throughout the entire novel, Paulsen uses repetition as a literary technique. In Chapter 11, Brian repeatedly thinks that "there are these things to do" over and over in his head, and this line appears in the text multiple times. This repetition mirrors the repetition in Brian's daily life as he continues his fight for survival. Life becomes routine and repetitive; he wakes up, looks for food, and gathers wood to keep his fire going. This repetition, however, is a good distraction for Brian, and as long as he can keep himself moving with the ebb and flow of his daily tasks, then he can keep his mind off the fact that he still has not been rescued.

Brian stares at his reflection in the lake in Chapter 11 and notes the changes he sees in himself. This is an important moment; while readers began to acknowledge the changes happening in Brian in the previous chapters, this is the first time that Brian has acknowledged them himself. His physical changes—tanned skin, thin body, marks and swelling from mosquito bites—mirror the changes happening inside his mind as he becomes attuned to the ways of the forest.

Until Chapter 13, however, Brian is still primarily focused on rescue. He does not think much about keeping himself alive for the long term, instead focusing on short-term solutions for problems that will do until he is rescued. He thinks about home often and makes the signal fire his first priority, all to maximize his chances of being rescued.

But depression sets in when the search plane comes and goes, and he realizes for the first time that he will probably be stuck out here for the long-term. Survival suddenly becomes much more difficult when he cannot convince himself that rescue will come soon. This is the moment that will make or break Brian, and for a while it seems like he will give up. As we see in Chapter 13, though, he resolves himself to survival, resolves to not giving up and waiting to die, and this determination is a true mark of Brian's strength of character. This is another major transition for Brian: a transition from short-term survival to an extended shot at life.

Paulsen makes a distinct choice in Chapter 13 to fast forward many weeks into the future, when Brian is already thriving, and then backtrack to explain different events, failures, and successes that led him to this point. He could have simply continued on in chronological order, but if he had done that, the change in Brian would not have been as apparent. By juxtaposing defeated, depressed old Brian at the end of Chapter 11 with resourceful, invigorated new Brian at the beginning of Chapter 13, Paulsen is able to more effectively display the ways Brian has grown, capturing readers' interest and keeping their attention as he goes through the various events that have brought Brian to where he is over the last 47 days.