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HATCHET BY GARY PAULSEN STUDY GUIDE
In his unconscious state, Brian remembers the event he now calls the Secret. He and his friend, Terry, had been riding bikes past the Amber Mall when he saw his mother sitting in a station wagon with a strange man with blonde hair. There is more to the memory, but now he only recalls the bikes, the station wagon, the man with his mother, and his hot hate. Then, he opens his eyes and screams. His legs are still in the water. and he feels pain hammering into him. However, he also feels the best part about such an ordeal: he is alive. He blacks out again and doesn’t awaken again until evening. He is able to pull himself out of the water to a small stand of brush where he lays down again and falls into a dreamless sleep.
He awakens again at early morning in a panic, because it seems so dark. It’s only when he turns over that he sees the sky beginning to lighten across the lake. He is in pain all over, bruised and cramping with a sharp throb in his head. However, nothing seems shattered or broken or even sprained that badly. Even the swollen knot on his head seems to be merely bruised. He thinks for a moment about the pilot still strapped in his seat at the bottom of the lake, but his thoughts continue to be disjointed. It takes him an hour or two to adjust to where he is, but he comes vividly awake when the mosquitoes begin to attack. They attack in such masses that his eyes are soon swollen shut, and he can only protect himself with his torn windbreaker. Only when the sun is fully up and making his damp clothes steam do the mosquitoes disappear.
Brian finally stands up and looks at the lake where he sees
the reflection of a large bird flying from the top of the real forest. The trees
are large with some low brush around them, and everything is so green that the
color seems to go into him. He realizes that if he had come down just a little
to the left, he would have hit the rocks along the lake, and he would have been
destroyed. He wonders if it was just good luck, but reflects that if he had good
luck, his parents wouldn’t have divorced, the pilot wouldn’t have died, and he
wouldn’t have crashed. He can only shake his head and try not to think about the
bad luck. He finds a tall pine, leans up against it, and falls asleep again.
This chapter is one of acclimation for Brian. He must come to terms with where he is and deal with the shock of crashing in an airplane into a lake. It takes him a whole day to realize he’s alive and accept what has happened to him.
This time, when Brian awakens, he is unbelievably thirsty and quite sunburned. He doesn’t know if the water in the lake is safe, and it bothers him to drink where the pilot lies dead, but he forces himself to cup his hands and take a sip. Then, he finds he can’t stop. After he drinks until his stomach is swollen, he promptly climbs back up the bank and throws it all up. However, his thirst is gone, and he is ready to face the reality of where he is. He is alone, and no one knows where he is. However, he is sure they will look for him. In the meantime, he is hungry and must find food.
He remembers Mr. Perpich, his English teacher who always stressed thinking positively, so Brian takes stock of what he does have, rather than what he doesn’t have. He has a few coins in his pocket, a fingernail clipper, a billfold with a twenty dollar bill, and his hatchet. He also has a pair of good tennis shoes, socks, jeans, underwear, and a T-shirt. His windbreaker is hanging on him in tatters, but it may have some use to him eventually. He remembers that Mr. Perpich also said that he was his best and most valuable asset. However, it comes to Brian that he had flown for a long time on a different course, and he might be several hundred miles from the recorded flight plan. Now he knows that they might not find him for a long time, and he even thinks they might never find him. He pushes that thought down to avoid the panic it induces. The only weapon and tool he has is the hatchet, and he realizes that he needs to find some kind of shelter. He has to help himself, because he is all he has.
This chapter is the next step in Brian’s coming of age. He accepts that he is his own best asset, and that he must begin to help himself. It has taken two days to come to terms with the accident and start to make his survival one that will last.