Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 14 | Summary



Brian thinks about how important mistakes are. He considers the difference between living in the city and living in the wilderness. When people make mistakes in the city, there are ways to recover. In the wilderness, even a small mistake might kill him. One night a sound wakes him up, and he sees a skunk going after the turtle eggs he has stored. Brian tries to drive the skunk away, but it sprays and blinds him. He can still smell the stench in his hair and shelter six weeks later. While Brian was at the lake desperately trying to rinse his eyes, the skunk ate the eggs anyway.

As a result, Brian realizes that food and shelter are the most important things in nature, and that he'd been lazy at first and taken both for granted. So he spends days improving his shelter by strengthening the walls and the door, then turns his attention to food. He knows that he needs better sources of food. He also needs to store food for the times when it isn't available or he can't gather it. He finds a ledge above his shelter that will work as a "food shelf," cleans it off, and builds a ladder to get to it. However, he doesn't have any food to store there. He starts wondering about storing fish and the possibility of making a pond so he can keep fish on hand more easily.


Paulsen's authorial mask slips in this chapter as he lectures the reader directly on the nature of survival and the attitude one needs to survive. Civilization provides a kind of insurance against individual mistakes. In the wilderness, however, mistakes carry a terrible weight.

For this reason, acknowledging his mistakes and learning from them continues to be an important aspect of Brian's education in the wild. A skunk may look harmless enough for Brian to think he can confront it, but its well-aimed spray blinds him for two hours and pollutes his shelter. Once he regains his sight, his eyes hurt for two weeks. This forces him to consider what might happen if he became hurt or sick. He will starve to death if he can't gather food. The lesson is a powerful one, and the lingering stink from the skunk's spray reminds him that all creatures in the forest are constantly in competition for food.

Following a now well-established pattern in the novel, the incident teaches Brian about the next step in his survival process, the need for food storage, and tests his capacity for ingenuity and his ability to cleverly problem-solve. He demonstrates such resourcefulness when he creates a "food shelf" and ladder and decides to build a pond for storing fish.

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