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Hatchet

Gary Paulsen

Chapters 7–9

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 10–12

Summary

Chapter 7

Awakened in the middle of the night from a dream about his mother, Brian becomes violently ill from the many berries he has eaten the previous day. He has a flashback in which the image of his mother kissing the man with the short blond hair recurs to him with horrible clarity. Falling back asleep, Brian awakes in the morning, walks down to the lake, and he sees his reflection in the water. Finding his injuries and worn face repulsive, he gives in to his tears and cries in self-pity. His stomach was aching with hunger, and he ate more of the bitter red berries, this time making certain to avoid eating too many. In search of other food he comes upon a raspberry patch, where he spots a bear and stiffens with fear, but soon realizes that the bear does not intend to harm him. Picking many raspberries, he eats some and saves many more for later. With the bear in mind, he keeps his hatchet close by his side and falls asleep.

Chapter 8

In the middle of the night a noise awakens Brian and he senses something in his shelter. He throws his hatchet across the shelter and an acute pain spreads through his entire leg. A porcupine has attacked him with hundreds of painful quills. After pulling all the quills out one by one, Brian cries in misery and loses his will to survive. When he can cry no more, it dawns on him that crying and self-pity accomplish nothing. He considers this realization the most important lesson he learns about survival. Dozing off once more, Brian has a dream in which his father and his friend Terry appear. Mouthing inaudible words, his father strives to tell Brian something important, cannot convey the message. He then disappears and Terry takes his place. While barbecuing in the park, he lights a charcoal fire and looks at Brian. Brian cannot make sense of these dreams nor understand their purpose. In the morning, while Brian stretches, the sun hits the hatchet and it shines like fire. Only then does Brian make the connection between his dreams and reality; Terry and his father were trying to explain to Brian how to make a fire. Striking the hatchet against a stone and watching the sparks fly, Brian determines that he will find a way to use the hatchet to make fire.

Chapter 9

Producing fire from sparks presents a much greater challenge than Brian had anticipated, requiring him to make several modifications before he succeeds. He finds some birch bark to ignite the sparks, but needs a finer and more effective type of material. The fire is still dying after many efforts, and Brian becomes frustrated but perseveres. He thinks back to his science classes, and Brian remembers that fire also needs oxygen to thrive. He blows on it, and, after adjusting the strength of his blows, the sparks burst into a flame. Feeding the fire with more kindling and reveling in his accomplishment, he considers the fire a friend as well as a guard against animals and mosquitoes. All alone in the wilderness, he cries out in joy at his fire, longing to share it with someone. Brian wonders what his parents are doing at that moment, and if his mother was seeing the strange man he had seen her kiss.

Analysis

Brian's dream in Chapter 7 indicates that although he has traveled far from his mother and has been away for some time, his parents' divorce remains a forceful element in his life, with which he has yet to come to terms. When he wonders what his parents are doing in the end of Chapter 9, the reader is aware that although the focus had shifted towards an emphasis on Brian's life in the woods, the past still emerges in his thoughts.

Although Brian has been living outdoors for some time, only in this part of the book does he start to truly communicate with nature and to identify with the creatures of the natural world. After he spots the bear in the berry patch and realizes he his harmlessness, he thinks to himself, "The bear made no move to hurt you, to threaten you. It stood to see you better, study you, then went on its way eating berries. It was a big bear, but it did not want you, did not want to cause you harm, and that is the thing to understand here."

Along with Brian's newfound harmony with nature comes a shift in his thinking. Paulsen writes, "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." Rather than placing exclusive importance on his own condition, Brian learns from his humbling experiences with nature that he comprises a mere part of the whole of the natural world. This acknowledgment provides the first step toward respect for the natural environment and all those who live in it. He also begins to think of the shelter and the surrounding wilderness as his home, which further solidifies his sense of connectedness to nature and to his new life in it.

After the porcupine stings Brian and he gives in to self-pity once more, he reaches a turning point in the book. He realizes the futile nature of self-pity and becomes determined to distance himself from demonstrating that weakness again. This transformation proves that Brian not only grows more physically proficient at survival in a harsh wilderness, but also becomes more mature in his outlook on life in general.

Brian's efforts to start a fire often result in failure, but while he becomes discouraged at times, Brian demonstrates his growing mental capabilities when he perseveres despite these difficulties. The reader senses that the events of this part of the book provide the foundation for Brian's dynamic character.

When Brian finally succeeds at producing a hearty flame in Chapter 9, he seeks to share his satisfaction with someone. While Brian has grown accustomed to his solitary state, his strong desire for companionship speaks to a quality in human nature. That is, human beings seek company both in times of triumph and in times of despair. Because Brian has no human companions, he begins to identify with and become closer to the animal and wilderness life around him, this trend epitomized by his regard of the fire as his friend.

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