About the Book

Book Protagonist: Brian Robeson
Publication Date: 1986
Genre: Action and Adventure, Coming of Age, Teen and Young Adult

Themes and Analysis


By Gary Paulsen

‘Hatchet’ is a highly thought-provoking coming-of-age story that explores the themes of hope, nature, and survival.

Arguably his best piece of work, Gary Paulsen’s ‘Hatchet,’ is heavy with lessons. It will have you on your toes while reading it, and even after. Using his experience as an archive to collect a significant part of the plot, Gary created a masterpiece.

Hatchet Themes


Hope is very important. A life without hope is a life not worth living. In fact, it can be everything. It wasn’t the money Brian had with him that kept him going (the money he even ended up burning); it was all hope. This might as well be the central theme in ‘Hatchet.’ This is because it has all the other themes tied to it, somehow.

For fifty-four days in the wilderness, hope kept Brian going. When the porcupine attacked, hope kept him going. When the skunk attacked, same, it was no different when the moose attacked. Twice, when he almost tried to kill himself, hope kept him going. A person without hope is dead. And when that person finally dies, it is right to say it is a second death. About hope, in the narrator’s words: “…filled with new hope, not that he would be rescued, but hope in knowledge. Tough hope.” Indeed, hope can be everything.

The Unpredictability of Life’s Events

This one’s talking about how things can turn around quickly. It is evident in how situations flipped quickly in the wilderness. Brian could be happy and satisfied one moment (everything seeming right with the world), and the very next minute, he is fighting for his life—the porcupine, the skunk, the moose, and the tornado. It would have one feeling for Brian- like, just minutes ago, this guy was at peace, now see. After the moose attacked him, these were his thoughts: “A flip of some giant coin, and he was the loser.” He hoped the tornado hit the moose anyway.


An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. Brian had to keep himself busy at all times. Otherwise, the hopelessness of his situation was bound to drive him mad. It’s either he was sleeping or working on something, fishing/hunting, making the fire, getting some wood for the fire, working on his ‘home,’ just something. Also, the whole time he was in the wilderness, we never saw him sleeping in the daytime. That is just an observation. It isn’t good, and neither is it bad. The point is, Brian was always busy with something during the day and retired to sleep at night. This helped distract him necessarily.


Brian’s knowledge of aircraft, radios and transmitters, survival shows, rifles, and so on, helped him a lot. Even the ones he thought were useless, ended up being of good use to him, with or without his knowing or fully acknowledging that. The saying, “Knowledge is power” fits in perfectly here.

Family Dysfunction

The extent to which dysfunction in a family can affect a child. Brian wouldn’t have been on that plane if his parents hadn’t divorced. From time to time, his mother’s affair haunts him. That is a weight too heavy for a child (or anyone who wasn’t involved in ruining things) to bear.

Connecting with Nature

Brian’s attention to nature also helped him to connect his mind and his body. At different points, he would stop to admire his environment. No artificial noise, just the birds chirping and the fish flapping around in the ocean. Connecting with nature helped Brian so much. The serenity was just… bliss. When the wilderness was quiet, and this was usually for a few seconds, it was quiet, a deafening silence, the type Brian had never witnessed until he started living in the wilderness.

He became more sensitive, could tell sounds apart, and could tell when danger was lurking. Brian was humanized in that forest, because the truth is, the farther away one is from nature, the less human that person becomes. He thought the place to be beautiful. He wishes he could share it with someone, but thinks it’s beautiful to witness even alone. He also wonders what he’d miss if he ever got rescued.


This is not only about the stomach, and it is about the quest to know more and be more. This was behind all of Brian’s inventions. He made the bows and arrows because he needed to hunt for meat. He made the tools for fishing because he needed to catch fish; he built a doorway to his ‘home,’ eventually, for safety (mostly from smaller animals, anyway); he made a fire because it was very important to make fire, and so on. His hunger for knowledge helped him navigate the wilderness. What he knew before crashing into the wilderness helped him a lot. It is correct to say that once someone stops being hungry for knowledge, that person begins to die, to wither.


We see Brian’s situation now makes him miss his old life. This was a little while after he crash-landed in the desert. This is what fear can make people do. It became important to rid himself of fear. Predators can smell fear. Fear is not so useful an emotion. Fear is a time-waster. Being proactive is better than living in fear. He becomes more proactive and sheds the excess weight that is fear, went on to build a pond in the lake, prepared a place in the bluff to signal for help, learned to build fire, and so on. Brian’s plan to guide the plane on its way down when the gas finishes—though it does not work exactly as he wished—was him being proactive. It is preparedness in action.


Time changes people. The narrator says this about Brian when he meets the wolves. Here: “He nodded and smiled at the wolves. Time had passed through him and made him different from the Brian that crashed into the wilderness, not that he was keeping track of time anyway.

Going by his calculations, 47 days after the crash and 42 days since he was reborn, Brian appreciates how tough he had become and how he had come a long way; how he tried to commit suicide by cutting himself with the hatchet after the plane came and left and how he had to sleep with his eyes closed and mind open because of fear.

Now, he sleeps better but wakes promptly. Some of the things he has survived; the first bow and arrow he made was too stiff, it almost blinded him. What he had learned: how to catch fish by aiming under (his Biology class came in handy), how he thinks he must have eaten over twenty fishes the day he learned how to catch fish. He was filled with new hope, not that he would be rescued, but hope in knowledge.


What one thing do you get to realize, reading ‘Hatchet?’

Again, we get to realize that hope can be everything. Hope kept Brian going in that forest. The hatchet (a gift from his mother), too; however, the tool wouldn’t have been of much use if Brian had lost hope. And, hoping with nothing is not very useful anyway. Hope, with the right tools, can change a lot.

What lesson about nature do we get to learn from ‘Hatchet?’

Nature is beautiful. Nature will feed you if you feed it. It will be kind to you if you are kind to it. We see Brian go from being mostly numb to being highly sensitive (able to tell sounds apart and know when trouble is looming), thoughtful and appreciative. It is in the forest that for some seconds, Brian witnesses a deafening silence, nothing like what he was used to in the normal world, whatever normal means. A few times, Brian would stop and stare, in awe of nature.

What is the significance of the hatchet in ‘Hatchet?’

The hatchet from ‘Hatchet’ is everything. The hatchet given to Brian by his mother would go on to save his life. Alone in the forest, it is with the hatchet he makes fire, builds and rebuilds what he would call his home, and builds tools for hunting. It is also with the hatchet that he gains entry to the plane after the tornado brought the tail up. He loses the hatchet and dives into murky water to retrieve it because of how important it had become to him. It is from this plane that he retrieves a transmitter, one he thinks is damaged, but which goes on to bring someone that takes him out of the wilderness.

What is the major lesson from ‘Hatchet?’

One major lesson from ‘Hatchet’ is: try never to lose touch with nature. In that forest, Brian sheds unnecessary weight. No, not even physical weight, just the unnecessary things that we mostly cannot see with our eyes. Brian sheds the unnecessary weight, drops what is irrelevant, and gains the useful weight, picks the important things. We watch him become more sensitive, more thoughtful, and more appreciative.

Chioma Julie
About Chioma Julie
Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication. With an unwavering love for music, movies and books, sometimes, she also writes to unwind.
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