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Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 18 | Summary



Brian circles the plane twice more, but he still can't find any way in. Slamming his hand against its frame in frustration, he realizes the metal is very thin. He easily chops through the thin metal with his hatchet. But as he starts hacking more furiously, he drops the precious tool and it sinks to the bottom of the lake. He's furious at himself and thinks this is the sort of thing he would have done when he was first stranded. He will have to dive for the hatchet but doesn't know how deep the lake is. Filling his lungs with air, he dives and gets within a few feet of the lake bottom before he has to resurface. He dives again with more planning and purpose. This time he makes it to the bottom. He scrambles around and is almost out of air when he sees the hatchet. He grabs it and heads to the surface, barely making it before the air explodes from his lungs.

Brian resumes chopping at the plane. He can't see anything inside and has to keep making the hole bigger to get a decent look. He saves all the metal pieces that he chops off the plane, in case they will be useful later. Eventually the hole is large enough for him to get inside. He searches for, and eventually finds, the survival pack, but he also sees the body of the dead pilot. The same fish that Brian has been eating have eaten the flesh off the dead man's head. All that remains is the man's skull and some bits of flesh. Horrified, Brian nearly throws up underwater. He swims out of the plane and back to the surface, where he hangs onto the tail of the plane and breathes for a few minutes. He eventually calms down and heads back to shore, dragging the survival pack. The pack is heavy and resists his attempts to move it. More than once he thinks he won't make it back, but he reaches the shore and slowly drags the pack to his shelter.


Brian passes near the lake every day. He drinks from it and fishes in it. But in this chapter he must descend into it, facing his fears and physical dangers, to obtain the survival pack. In many myths and stories, the journey of a hero often involves a similar rite of initiation. By facing a dangerous, potentially fatal challenge and using bravery and ingenuity to survive, the hero is transformed or rewarded.

Brian has already faced several challenges successfully, which have matured him into what he calls the "new" Brian. His descent into the lake is important because, this time, he chooses to face great danger to obtain something that could ensure his long-term survival. He knows the risks posed by the challenge he faces. When he crashed, the lake first saved his life by cushioning his landing, but he almost drowned in it. He survived, and the encounter was the first stage of his rebirth in the wilderness. His attempt to harm himself, followed by his renewed decision to live as a "new" version of himself, was the next stage in his rebirth. By returning to lake, Brian faces death another time in the hope of being reborn as a stronger and more courageous version of himself. The dead pilot's skull is a powerful reminder of the possible outcome.

Paulsen demonstrates his mastery of pace in this chapter, which contains a series of challenges and reversals. Any one of these scenes—facing the pilot, retrieving the hatchet, getting into the plane—could have been a chapter in itself. Each requires fortitude and reveals character. The chapter establishes Brian as not just a survivor, but a hero. While readers don't know what form his victory will take, it is clear that he'll triumph.

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