Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen endured a tumultuous childhood during which he lived with his mother in a variety of locations, including the Philippines and Hawaii. At the age of fourteen, Paulsen ran away from home and began a decades-long stretch working a variety of jobs in order to support himself while writing. An avid outdoorsman, his pursuits have included sailing in the Pacific and racing sled dogs, even competing in the 1983 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He’s published more than one hundred books, many of which are based on his own experiences living and working in the wilderness, and his works include fiction and nonfiction for both children and adults. In addition, many of his works include a “coming of age,” much like the one Brian experiences in Hatchet. Paulsen currently lives with his wife, Ruth, who illustrates children’s books, and divides his time between homes in New Mexico and Alaska.
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Historical Context of Hatchet

Published in 1987, Hatchet’s themes of the value of nature and interconnection relate to the technological innovations of the 1980s, which had already begun to alter humans’ relationships with the natural world. Paulsen hints at his anti-technology views throughout the novel, as when he contrasts Brian’s view of the stunning sunset with his former life watching TV back in the city. With his emphasis on Brian’s personal growth in connection with nature, Paulsen seems to push back against a cultural context focused on technological advancement and isolation from natural experience.

Other Books Related to Hatchet

Hatchet is the first of five novels about Brian Robeson’s experiences in the wilderness. Perhaps the most notable of its sequels is Brian’s Winter, which was the third published chronologically but offers an alternate ending to Brian’s rescue at the conclusion of Hatchet. Paulsen wrote Brian’s Winter to satisfy readers who felt that Hatchet ended too tidily and wanted to know how Brian could survive the coming winter. These sequels continue to expand the theme of nature’s role in Brian’s identity. Paulsen’s nonfiction work Guts also relates to Hatchet in that it describes Paulsen’s own adolescent experiences with outdoor survival and sometimes trauma, including hunting, extreme weather, and attacks by wild animals. Hatchet is also part of a long tradition of American novels about young adults surviving in the wilderness. Among these is Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain, which tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who runs away from his home in New York City to live alone in the Catskill mountains. Published nearly thirty years before Hatchet, George’s book won several awards and set the stage for the success of later novels like Paulsen’s.
Key Facts about Hatchet
  • Full Title: Hatchet
  • When Written: mid-1980s
  • Where Written: Unknown
  • When Published: 1987
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult novel, bildungsroman, nature writing
  • Setting: The wilderness in Northern Canada
  • Climax: When Brian explores the plane, successfully obtaining the survival pack but also seeing the pilot’s deteriorating body.
  • Antagonist: The dangers of the wilderness, as well as the blindness of a human society that does not value nature.
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Hatchet

Turtle Eggs. Although Paulsen had already personally experienced much of what Brian experiences in the book, he tried to eat a raw turtle egg as research for Hatchet, so that he could describe what Brian tastes as accurately as possible. Unlike Brian, however, Paulsen couldn’t make himself swallow the egg.

Survival Guide.  In 2007, the father of a boy who was lost in the wilderness of North Carolina for four days credited Hatchet with helping his son survive. A fan of the book, 12-year-old Michael Auberry reportedly managed to find water and survive below-freezing nighttime temperatures during his ordeal.