In the middle of the night, Brian hears what he thinks is a growl. He sits up and smells something rotten. It reminds him of what a grave might smell like. Then, he hears it slithering near his feet, and he kicks out as hard as he can and throws his hatchet which bounces off the rock with a shower of sparks. At once, his leg is torn with pain as if a hundred needles had been driven in it. The dark shadow that is the slithering sound moves away from him in the dark. Once the shadow is gone for good, Brian feels his leg and discovers a group of needles that had been driven into his calf. A porcupine had wandered into his shelter, and when he had kicked out at it, it had slapped him with its tail of quills. He eventually pulls eight quills out of his leg, leaving him in excruciating pain.
Now, Brian falls into despair again. He believes that he just canít do all this and cries until heís all cried out. But he soon comes again to the realization that not only that it is wrong to feel sorry for himself, it also just doesnít work. He falls asleep and dreams this time of his father and then his friend, Terry. His father seems to be trying to tell him something, mouthing the sounds of Mmmmmm-maaaa. But his father soon fades into the fog, and Terry comes. Terry builds a fire with charcoal, starter fluid, and a flick lighter. He turns in the dream and points to the fire as if to say, ďSee. A fire.Ē
Brian becomes frustrated with the dream and awakens with the dim, gray
morning light. He eats a few berries and then notices his hatchet where
he had thrown it the night before. He picks it up and as he stretches
in the sun, the light reflecting off the hatchet, he remembers the dream
and realizes the hatchet is the key to it all. When he had thrown the
hatchet at the porcupine, it had hit off the stone wall and created sparks.
The sparks, he realizes, will make fire.
Once again, Brian takes another step toward manhood. He learns that
in the wilderness, peace can become danger in an instant, when he encounters
the porcupine. He learns that despair wonít work, because after he gives
into it, all of his problems are still there to be solved. He is reminded
through his dreams once again how important it is to build a fire. And
he realizes that the hatchet is the key, because striking it against the
stone wall will create sparks that can lead to fire.
Brian soon learns that itís a long way from sparks to fire. He tries
several combinations of twigs and dried grass, but the sparks just sputter
and die. He then comes to the conclusion that he needs something finer.
He first tears up his twenty dollar bill and follows that with fine pieces
of birch bark. This lasts a little longer, but still the sparks go out.
His next conclusion is that he needs to add oxygen and adds his own gentle
breath. Finally, he creates a hot red ball of heat and that bursts into
flame. He frantically feeds the new flames with small dead limbs from
the pine trees, and the fire continues to burn. Brian thinks to himself
that now he has a friend and a guard since the fire burns near the entrance
he had created for his shelter. Furthermore, the curve of the rock above
his head acts as a perfect flue that carries the smoke up through the
cracks in the ledge, but holds the heat where he needs it. He is momentarily
satisfied with his accomplishment, but canít help wondering what his parents
are doing at that moment and whether his mother is with him.
This chapter is yet another step in Brianís evolution to manhood. Using his own knowledge and his desire to protect himself, he figures out how to build a fire from the sparks of his hatchet. However, he hasnít yet matured enough to forgive the pain his mother has caused his family and how the Secret is what destroyed it.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Hatchet".
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