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Hatchet | Study Guide

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet | Chapter 6 | Summary



Brian remembers a time when he and his friend Terry played in the park two years earlier. They found a thickly wooded place near the river and pretended they were lost and had to survive. He recalls that they assumed they would have all sorts of supplies. After wishing Terry were with him, "with a gun, a knife, and some matches," Brian remembers how they decided a lean-to was the best type of shelter to build, and he decides to try to build a similar shelter in the wilderness. An indentation in the stone near the lake offers some protection from rain. After inspecting it, he sees that all he has to do is build a wall on one side to create a dry shelter.

Now he turns to the next challenge: finding something to eat. He remembers television shows he has seen about people living in the desert, including one that showed a pilot cooking lizard stew in a can. He knows there are no lizards here to eat, but he wonders if there might be something else. Suddenly he decides to look for berries. He walks slowly through the woods and ends up following birds to a berry bush. The berries are tart, but he eats a lot of them. He picks more berries and makes a pouch out of his windbreaker, then carries the berries back towards his camp. There he starts gathering wood to build a wall. By the time the sun sets, he has formed a room about 8 feet by 15 feet with one three-foot-wide opening. His stomach feels a little upset from gorging on the berries, but Brian goes to sleep.


Paulsen continues to interweave the novel's significant themes as Brian takes his first steps toward survival. This chapter quietly dramatizes one of the shifts Brian must make in order to survive. When Brian remembers his conversation with his friend Terry about being lost in the wilderness, he again reviews past knowledge to try to apply it to his present situation. He does this again as he remembers various television shows he's seen about survival. In both cases, Brian recalls genuinely useful information, such as the inspiration for the shelter he creates later in the chapter. Even information that is not directly useful can lead him in a helpful direction, as when the idea of cooking lizard stew spurs him to consider his environment and search for berries.

To survive, Brian must focus. He culls the information he recalls down to two core needs: food and shelter. He also realizes he must use reasoning and observation of the natural world rather than memory alone. He realizes he cannot depend on what he has learned from adults, the educational system, and the media with its romanticized view of nature. In the city an upset stomach rarely carries any risk. Here, where Brian is alone in the wilderness, it might cost him his life. And though he does not know it yet, Brian is learning to pay attention to what matters most. His observation of the birds in the forest does more to show him how to find food than anything he learned in the past.

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