Free Study Guide for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

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Brian Robeson

He is a thirteen year-old boy when the story begins and a thirteen year old man when it ends. He comes to the experience of survival alone in the woods with deep emotional pain over his parentsí divorce and little knowledge about how to take care of himself. However, in the fifty-four days that he is missing, he evolves into a mature, more patient, more compassionate young man. Even though the experience could easily have killed him, it turns out to be one that will mold him into a much better man than he might have been had the crash never happened. He then is a role model for the reader in that he shows the reader how important it is to learn to adapt and grow from the experiences that life brings when one least expects them.

The Pilot

Although he appears very little in the story, he represents the unexpected moments in life, when his death forces Brian to learn how to save himself. He seems to be a kind person, and the fact that he shows Brian how to work the planeís controls almost makes him the boyís guardian angel. Later, his corpse, with the skull eaten away by fish, forces Brian to remember that this man had once been a living, breathing human being. This thought brings out the new Brian who can now think about the fate of someone other than himself.

Brianís Parents

They are with Brian all the time in his mind as he learns to survive in the wilderness. His father comes to him in a dream to help him figure out a way to make a fire. His fatherís hurt and confusion over the divorce is also ever-present in Brianís consciousness. He thinks of his mother when he is in his greatest despair and how she tenderly called him her ďlittle scout.Ē However, most thoughts of his mother are a source of pain and hatred as he remembers how he discovered her cheating on his father. Itís only after he matures over the fifty-four days that he can come to the realization that he can forgive her and keep the Secret hidden forever.


The story is a narrative told omnisciently about Brian Robesonís fifty-four day survival in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. It is told in the motif of a bildungsroman as we view Brian maturing and coming of age in his desperate desire to survive.


The rising action begins in chapter one when Brianís plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness and he is forced to find a way to survive. It continues with him learning new skills every day and growing and maturing until he is finally rescued.


The falling action occurs when the plane lands and Brian is rescued. It continues with the Epilogue in which the reader learns the aftermath of Brianís experience in the wilderness and how it has changed him.


Third-person Omniscient. It is written omnisciently as if viewed by a source outside all the action.


The theme of never giving up is one of the most prevalent themes in that we are shown throughout the story that without hope, life is meaningless. Brian learns this the hard way, but it is what sustains him when he faces the most difficult challenges to his survival. It is an important idea for the reader who will probably be a young person himself. By following Brianís example, any young person who reads this book will be able to understand how life is seldom easy and how hope must never die.

Another theme is perseverance and determination. This is especially seen in how Brian learns to solve problems that will potentially be life-threatening. He calls upon his intelligence, memory, and youth to overcome such experiences as creating fire, fighting off a moose, building shelter, and finding food. Again, for the reader, these experiences offer anyone a example to follow in order to resolve issues in his own life.

A third theme is that of maturity. It is not enough that Brian must grow up to hone his survival skills; he must also learn the compassion and maturity it will take to keep the Secret forever secret. It teaches us that sometimes shielding someone else from pain is a way we might be able to forgive and forget our own pain.

Another theme is that of education. The pilot said that flying was just like anything else: it just takes learning. This will be especially applicable to Brian when he spends each day learning something new about survival and life in general. It emphasizes that life is all about learning and growing and anyone who realizes this will always be successful in the end.

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Hatchet by Gary Paulsen Free BookNotes Summary

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