Hatchet Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-10


Brian wakes in the middle of the night to a strange sound and a rotting smell. Something is slithering in his shelter. He blindly throws his hatchet, and it hits against the rock in a shower of sparks. When he does this, he feels a horrible, splitting pain in his leg, as if needles had been driven into it. He spots a dark form slithering out the door, and then feels his leg: there are quills stuck in it, and his attacker had apparently been a porcupine.

He realizes how fast things change: he had gone to sleep satisfied, having found the raspberries, and now everything was different when he woke up. Slowly he tears each quill out, one by one, bearing the pain. Overwhelmed, he sits and cries in his cave, knowing things cannot continue this way. He only stops when he remembers the most important rule of survival: feeling sorry for yourself does not work.

He tries to get a few more hours of sleep, and has a dream about first his father and then his friend Terry. In the dream, his father is trying to tell him something, but no sound is coming out of his mouth. Then the dream changes to Terry, who is sitting beside a barbecue pit making a fire with charcoal, lighter fluid, and a match. This frustrates Brian; he knows he needs a fire, but cannot figure out how he would make one.

When morning comes at last he gets up to eat some raspberries and retrieve the hatchet from where he threw it. Suddenly he remembers the sparks that flew when it hit the stone, and he realizes what his dream had been trying to tell him. The hatchet would give him fire.

He builds a nest of thin materials beneath the stone wall, ripping his twenty-dollar bill, the only money he has, into tiny pieces. He adds bits of peeled bark that he tears as thin as he possibly can. Then he strikes the hatchet against the rock repeatedly, hoping the sparks will catch the nest. Some of the sparks catch briefly, but fade out immediately. He remembers that fire needs oxygen, and alternates blowing on the sparks in the nest with striking the hatchet.

Finally the fire catches, and the sparks grow into a glowing flame. Having fire is a huge morale boost for Brian, who now feels like he has a friend and a guard. He wishes there were someone to show off his creation to, and wonders what his parents are doing now. he wonders if his mother is with the other man.

At first, he cannot bring himself to leave the precious fire, feeding it as much as he can to keep it alive. He builds a woodpile so that he can continue to keep it burning. He realizes that the mosquitoes will not come near him when the smoke of the fire is swirling in the air, a welcome discovery. After a day full of gathering wood, he falls asleep hopeful for tomorrow. He is out of berries to eat, but he will look for more food the next day.

He wakes in the middle of the night; his fire is almost out, so he feeds it again and decides to be more careful. He hears a strange sound outside, and in the morning goes to investigate, finding tracks of a large animal dragging itself across the sand. At first he cannot figure out why—he thinks it must be playing—but then tries to shed this city boy mentality and remember that all of nature’s creatures do things for a purpose. He realizes it was a turtle, and finds a nest of turtle eggs buried in the sand. He is thrilled to find food, but cannot cook the eggs in any way, so he eats six of them raw and saves the rest. As he fights his hunger down, he thinks of the rescuers and hopes they come soon.


Out in the wilderness, the key to Brian's survival is a frustrating pattern of trial and error, as he attempts certain tasks, makes mistakes, and tries again. It is important for Brian to learn from his mistakes, or else he will make no progress. If he continued striking at the stone without stopping to assess the situation and refine his methods, he never would have created fire. Even though mistakes are costly, he must continue to make them in order to learn the best way to survive out here.

After the porcupine attacks Brian, he allows himself a few moments of self-pity. This is only human—however, the true mark of his character is when he realizes that self-pity will not help him to survive, and that he must instead push forward through adversity. This realization is a major turning point in the story. Brian has accepted his situation and resolved to keep going, keep fighting to survive until he is rescued.

Brian dreams of his loved ones trying to show him how to make fire, evidence that while he is resourceful on his own, he still relies on the experiences of his former life for guidance. This also shows how much he misses them, and how difficult it is for him to be alone. He is used to having people like his father and Terry there to turn to for guidance, and his solitude in the wild will take some getting used to. Since he grew up in a big city, he is not accustomed to this kind of loneliness.

This desire for companionship also makes an appearance after Brian makes the fire. He calls the fire his "friend," because its light, warmth, and protection keep him company while he is entirely alone. This speaks volumes about human nature. Humans are social beings, and if put in a situation of total solitude like Brian has been, they will grasp for any kind of companionship they can.

In these chapters, Brian's mind starts getting accustomed to the frequencies of his natural environment for the first time. Before he saw the turtle tracks, he thought like a city boy, unable to understand the inner workings of an environment like this. Now, though, he is beginning to think as if he is a part of nature himself. He understands that all of nature's creatures act with a purpose, and this understanding leads him to discovering a new source of food. Brian's new mode of thought will undoubtedly serve him well as he continues to try to keep himself alive.