Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 16 | Summary



Brian stands at the long end of the lake and thinks about how much he has changed and how he'll never be the same. He keeps a mental record of his various "First Days," which represent the times he did a particular task for the first time in the wilderness. "First Arrow Day" and "First Rabbit Day" represent additions to his food-gathering routine. He's always hungry, but he knows he can always get more food, and that knowledge makes him stronger.

One day, after killing a "foolbird," Brian is at the lake washing the bird's blood off his hands. He hears a sound and turns to find a moose, which attacks and almost kills him. She slams her head into Brian's back, throwing him deeper into the lake, and then tries to attack again. Brian manages to gulp some air before she drives him into the mud at the bottom of the lake. Eventually she moves on, and Brian swims to the surface of the lake, gasping for air. He tries to crawl out of the water, but she returns to attack him again, and he screams with pain and frustration. The next time he surfaces, Brian plays dead. Eventually he moves away slowly, and this time the moose lets him go.

Brian reviews his condition. His legs work, but his ribs are seriously injured, as is his right shoulder. During the attack, he dropped his spear and the dead foolbird in the lake. After the moose leaves Brian returns to the water to get his weapon and food. Because of his injuries it takes Brian a long time to return to his shelter. Finally he reaches it and crawls inside. He eats some stored fish and goes to sleep.

The wind wakes him. The sound gets louder and louder until Brian recognizes it is a tornado. It comes on suddenly and with violence, like the moose attack. It blows away the wall of his shelter and his weapons, scattering the coals from his fire. The wind slams Brian into the shelter's stone wall, compounding his injuries. He hears the wind breaking trees. It moves away to tear at the lake, and then it is gone. Everything is still again, and Brian is alone in the dark, surrounded by a sudden cloud of mosquitos. His fire is gone and so are all his tools and weapons—except for the hatchet on his belt.

Brian reflects on how quickly his situation can change. But his mood bounces back quickly, and he becomes defiant, challenging life to hit him with everything it has. His ribs are injured, and he's so covered with mosquitos that he's spitting them out, but he is confident that he can start over. Finally he sleeps. In the morning he sees the string for his bow is nearby and his fish pond is basically intact. He also sees something strange sticking out of the lake.


Paulsen includes a moose attack in Hatchet as a way of vividly and accurately evoking the dangers of nature. He survived such an attack himself, as he describes in his book Guts. However, this attack is highly symbolic and meaningful for other reasons. Living in the wilderness, Brian must learn how to handle a range of challenges, threats, and accidents. The author repeatedly shows the necessity for responding to sudden changes in the environment. The moose attack appears to be unprovoked, but Brian keeps his cool, studies the animal, and gradually makes his way to safety.

This chapter also teaches a central lesson about survival: life is not fair. The moose attack is not only sudden, but it appears to have no identifiable cause. Brian is hit by the tornado shortly after being attacked and wounded by a moose for no reason. The author makes it clear that the concept of fairness is meaningless in the wild. To survive, Brian must be ready to confront dangerous situations that may crop up without explanation or reason.

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