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Hatchet

Gary Paulsen

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 13–15

Chapter 19 and Epilogue

Summary

Chapter 16

Brian proudly recalls the major events since the plane crash, which he calls "First Days." For example, on "First Arrow Day" he had successfully constructed a straight-shooting arrow, and on "First Rabbit Day" he had killed his first rabbit, using similar methods as he had used to kill the foolbird. He alternates between rabbits and foolbirds, so he is able to satisfy himself with sufficient meat. In time he perfects his skills at catching foolbirds, once even catching a bird with his bare hands. While washing his hands in the lake, he senses something and turns around just in time to face a huge moose. The moose attacks him, throwing him into the water, thrashing him around, and badly hurting his ribs and his shoulder. Retrieving his bow, spear, and foolbird from the water's edge, Brian, in enormous pain, attempts to make sense of the attack before falling asleep. A far-off roar awakens Brian in the middle of the night. Suddenly, a tornado pounds down on him, slamming him on the side of the shelter. The tornado departs as quickly as it had arrived, leaving Brian out in the open, his shelter and fire obliterated. Without the protection of the fire, mosquitoes find him once again and he lies sleepless for the remainder of the night, contemplating how his situation has changed so drastically in one day. In the aftermath of the moose attack and the tornado he has little left. Nonetheless, Brian remains unfazed in his resolve to rebuild using the hatchet, his only remaining tool, still at his belt. Right before dawn Brian dozes off, awakening to assess the tornado's damage. The tornado had scattered the pieces of his shelter but they remained the area. Looking out over the lake, Brian spots the tail of the Cessna plane sticking out of the water. He thinks of the pilot, dead in the plane, and a huge weighty sadness sweeps over him. Compelled to say a few words for him, Brain hesitates because he does not know the "right words," the words of organized religion. He decides to simply concentrate and wish the pilot a peaceful rest.

Chapter 17

Brian works to restore his shelter to its former shape and to gather more firewood. Exhausted from a day of hard work, he lies down to go to sleep when it occurs to him that the survival pack that the pilot had mentioned might still be in the plane, and perhaps he could access it. Wondering what it might contain, Brian hopes that he will find food or tools, and decides to try to find it the following day. He falls asleep with the picture of the tail of the plane in his mind. The next morning he eats some fish to gain some energy for his project and reasons that a raft would be the best method to get out to the plane. Finding the construction of the raft difficult, Brian must find a way to attach the logs to one another. After many frustrating attempts, Brian interweaves branches into the logs to hold them together. Moving the raft presents another time-consuming challenge, and, as dusk approaches, Brian decides to return back to his shelter for the night and try again in the morning. Brian sensed fall in the air on this beautiful night in the woods. In the morning, he sets out for the plane on his raft. Attaching the raft to the plane, Brian shutters as it occurs to him that he might see the pilot down underwater.

Chapter 18

Frustrated by his inability to access the inside of the plane, Brian strikes it with his fist and the aluminum covering opens. Using the hatchet to cut through the rest of the sections, Brian is hacking away at a furious pace when he suddenly drops the hatchet and it falls to the bottom of the lake. After a few tries, Brian succeeds in picking the hatchet up from the bottom, having barely enough air in his lungs to return to the surface. He continues to cut into the plane and swims down into it to retrieve the survival pack. On his way back up he sees the pilot's head, the flesh eaten away by fish. Traumatized, Brian gets sick in the water and, struggling to free the pack from the plane, and arrives at the surface. Exhausted from his efforts, Brian drags the survival pack to his shelter and falls immediately into a deep sleep.

Analysis

When a moose attacks Brian and a tornado devastates the surrounding area, Brian demonstrates perseverance and resolve. Rather than becoming frustrated and disheartened, as he does in several incidents earlier in the novel, he accepts what he cannot change about his circumstances, while taking every opportunity to work towards changing those elements he can control. These events present equally serious consequences as earlier events that had devastated Brian's sense of hope. However, ever since his suicide attempt, the "new Brian" has taken control. Naturally he becomes slightly frustrated, but he does not allow his frustration to consume his energy. Rather he channels this energy toward immediately setting out to rebuild what he has lost.

Brian finds the moose attack to be "insane" and "madness." He seeks rationality in the act, and attempts to make sense of the moose's motives. Although Brian has developed an increasing sense of harmony with the animals that share the woods where he lives, this incident, as well as the tornado that rips through the woods, reminds him of the cruelty of which nature is capable. Observing the chaos of the storm, Brian regards it as at once "beautiful and terrible." As the book progresses and Brian grows more familiar with and knowledgeable about the patterns of nature, he begins to accept these patterns accordingly. While he recognizes the damage the moose attack and the tornado have caused him, he gains a broader perspective of the natural environment. He learns that nature gives life and destroys it, and that he, as a part of the natural world, must also be subject to these patterns.

After the day of the tornado and the moose attack, Brian relies upon his new sense of mental strength to pull him out of hopelessness. As he lies in the darkness, he definitively decides to take an active role in his fate, thinking to himself, "I'm tough where it counts—tough in the head." He has learned throughout the course of the novel that survival depends upon the strength of the mind more than on the strength of the body. The body will follow the lead of a strong and determined mind.

Contemplating the pilot's death in Chapter 16, Brian allows himself to grieve for him and to process his death for the first time. Brian's sense of duty toward the pilot compels him to wish him a peaceful rest and he focuses all his energy towards this wish. This private ceremony for the pilot represents one of Brian's most spiritual moments in the novel, and this sense of spirituality not only demonstrates his sensitivity toward the pilot, but also indicates certain self-awareness. Brian's burgeoning spirituality provides further evidence that he is maturing from boyhood to manhood. His emotions toward the pilot hint at a strengthening selflessness that Brian had not possessed before the crash.

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