Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 13 | Summary



Weeks later Brian stands at the end of the lake watching the fish. He wants to catch a bird, but some internal signal keeps him still. He has learned to trust his instincts, and paying attention to all his senses, he sees a wolf. Brian is afraid, but he also recognizes the rightness of the wolf and reflects that he "knew the wolf for what it was—another part of the woods." The animal watches him for a while, then leaves. As it does, three more wolves follow it. They all look at Brian as they walk past. He nods to them. He knows that "he was not the same now," but had become "a new Brian." This makes him think about how long he's been in the wilderness: 47 days.

Brian counts the day when the plane came and left, destroying his hopes of rescue, as his rebirth as the "new Brian." He recalls what happened after the plane left. At first he was so depressed he wanted to die. He let his fire go out and refused to eat. He tried, unsuccessfully, to use his hatchet to kill himself by cutting his arms. Then he realized two things: first, the failure of the plane to rescue him had "made him new." Second, he wanted to live. Brian smiles now at who he used to be and the naïve mistakes he made, and embraces who he has become.

Brian continues making his bow and arrow. He practices how to use it, tries it on the fish, and fails. He realizes he didn't take into account the fact that water refracts, or bends, light and changes how he perceives the location of the fish. He adjusts for this fact, shoots a fish, and proudly holds it in the air. He cooks it over the fire, then goes back repeatedly to catch and eat more fish, making it "his first feast day."


Sight once again plays a major role in this chapter. The behavior of light, including refraction, is commonly taught in school. But in Brian's world, knowledge is no longer academic. The fact that water bends light and distorts his vision when he is fishing determines whether or not he eats. Understanding how to see the world correctly is a matter of life and death in this novel.

This chapter reflects the powerful relationship between nature and autonomy. Through his interaction with the wilderness and its creatures, Brian has now achieved a perfect balance between his internal state of mind and his external reality. The scene in Chapter 13 in which Brian encounters the wolves demonstrates how he has become even more attuned to his environment. He now understands and acknowledges that he is a part of the wilderness and has a place in it, but his place is not a dominant one. Brian's relationship to the wolf is not one in which man rules nature, nor is it defined only by fear. At first he's afraid of the wolf, but he quickly understands that "[the wolf] knew him and owned [him] and chose not to do anything to him." His fear disappears.

This chapter also explicitly reflects on the themes of change, autonomy, and survival as Brian recalls the moment in the wilderness that has defined him most. It wasn't the wreck, waking up on the shore of the lake, or learning to make fire or find food. The pivotal point for Brian is when the plane flew overhead, raising and then dashing his hopes. This sends him into deep despair. The experience is so hard on him psychologically that he "let[s] the fire go out" and "forg[ets] to eat even an egg." He gets close to suicide, but "the cutting [is] too hard to do."

Still, his desire to live endures. As the sun comes up, he realizes that he has changed and that he never wants to "let death in again." In this way, Brian passes through a second symbolic death and rebirth. Unlike his first rebirth, following the plane crash, he is acutely aware of this one. He notes that, although the plane crashed 47 days ago, he was reborn 42 days ago, the night of the failed near-rescue. He has discovered that he is "full of tough hope," resilient in the face of the uncertainty. He can count on himself to survive, not only on a practical level, but on an emotional one.

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