Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

While unconscious on the edge of the lake, Brian dreams in detail of the moment when he found out about what he calls the "Secret." While riding his bicycle with his friend Terry, he saw his mother sitting in a strange car with a man Brian didn't know. He saw her kiss the man in a romantic fashion.

Brian wakes up screaming. He doesn't know where he is. He hears birds and feels wet, but he is completely lost. After a few minutes, he remembers the plane crash. He looks at the lake: the plane has sunk and is invisible. After a while, he lies down and goes to sleep. When Brian wakes up it is night. He is sore but doesn't feel like he's broken anything. He's still wet and has trouble thinking. So he sits and waits and then watches the sun come up. As it does, swarms of mosquitos move through the air. He kills dozens, even hundreds of them, but doesn't seem to make a dent. They bite him so many times that his eyes swell. He tries covering himself with his torn jacket and his T-shirt but can't find any way to keep the insects back. Finally, when the sun is fully out, the mosquitos disappear.

With the mosquitoes gone, Brian reviews his situation. He looks at the lake and realizes that if the plane had landed differently, he would have hit rocks and been killed. He watches the activity in the lake, and recognizes that a pile of mud and sticks nearby is actually a beaver lodge. He also sees fish jumping in the lake, and is surprised by how many sounds fill the natural world. Exhausted and suspecting he is in shock, he finds a tree and sits down against it.

Analysis

The opening section of this chapter provides more back story on Brian's personal life and introduces a defining element of Paulsen's novel. Both are visible in a single phrase: "the Secret." When something is important to Brian, Paulsen labels it, capitalizes it, and repeats it. It is as if these defining moments return to haunt Brian obsessively.

This chapter also shows the close link between Brian's internal state and his external state. How Brian remembers "the Secret" underscores its importance. His memories of when and where he saw his mother are precise: he can recall the time, the temperature, the date, the man's blond hair, and the "white pullover shirt" he was wearing. The only other things Brian remembers in such specific detail while he is in the wilderness will be those that are key to his survival, generate major change in him, or both. After the description of Brian's memory of seeing his mother's "Secret," he wakes up screaming. The author puts this memory in close proximity to the crash to forge a link between two traumatic events that push Brian to the limits of his endurance.

As Brian does an inventory of his body and the landscape around him, the swarming bugs introduce another recurring theme of the novel: the reality of nature does not match Brian's expectations of it. His romanticized ideas come from books, movies, and television: "All they ever showed on the naturalist shows was beautiful scenery or animals ... having a good time. Nobody ever mentioned mosquitos or flies." He can't maintain this rosy view as mosquitos fly "by the dozens, by the hundreds" into his mouth or nose, "all biting, chewing, taking from him."

These small creatures are also symbolic—Brian lives through a huge event (the crash) only to suffer from small assaults (the insects). While a few mosquito bites are irritating, hundreds are enormously painful and incapacitating, a point Paulsen drives home here.

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