Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 5 | Summary



Brian wakes up suddenly. He's sunburned and incredibly thirsty, but he isn't sure if it is safe to drink the lake water, and the thought of the pilot's dead body in the lake bothers him. He thinks that if this were a movie, the hero would have easily found a "clear spring with pure sweet water." Eventually he tries the lake water. He drinks thirstily until he makes himself sick and throws up, but he does feel somewhat better. He starts to think about his situation. He is sure that people will look for him and are probably already looking. He thinks they will find him soon.

Brian realizes he's very hungry and thinks about how easily stranded heroes in movies find plants to eat. He doesn't know how to find food, but he remembers a former English teacher of his, Perpich, who believed in the power of positive thinking. Brian sits down and inventories his possessions: a little money and paper, his shoes and clothes, a broken watch, and the hatchet his mother gave him for the trip. Brian again realizes how hungry he is and says this to himself over and over, eventually shouting that he is hungry. When he stops he notices that the nearby woods are completely silent, and that he's never heard that kind of silence before. To get his mind off his hunger, Brian tries to think of other things. He eventually realizes that when the pilot died, he took the plane off course. Brian doesn't know how far off course, but he remembers they had flown for hours after the plane turned. Because of this, the search for the crashed plane is likely to focus somewhere else, somewhere very far away. He is still sure he will be found, but now he realizes that he can't just sit and wait. He has to take responsibility for himself by finding food and shelter. He remembers Perpich's advice and understands "that I'm all I've got."


Paulsen makes small actions seem meaningful and makes single actions fulfill multiple purposes. For instance, Brian's first drink from the lake is an act of survival and transformation. He almost died in the lake, a dead body is submerged in it, and the water might not be safe. In fact, the water is fine, but when he drinks too much of it, he learns a lesson. After what he just experienced, he needs to go slowly.

This chapter also shows Brian using past skills that no longer work in his current circumstance. At home shouting that he was hungry might have gotten Brian fed. Here, no one cares if he is hungry or not, and he must learn to feed himself. His isolation pushes him to develop the autonomy he needs to survive. Brian also must learn to manage his mental state, another way in which his autonomy will develop over the course of the novel. He tries to think "short thoughts." Instead of panicking because he "ha[s] nothing," he reasons that he doesn't "know what I've got or haven't got. Maybe I should try and figure out just how I stand." He also recalls Perpich's advice "to stay positive and stay on top of things" and "get motivated." Once he adjusts his attitude Brian is able to assess his possessions and to accept that he may not be rescued right away. Finally, he consciously chooses to think about things other than hunger. As he accepts that "right now, I'm all I've got," he takes the first step in accepting responsibility for his situation, a much-needed change to ensure his survival.

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