Hatchet

by

Gary Paulsen

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Hatchet: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Brian continues to move around the tail of the plane on the raft, searching for openings. Frustrated at finding nothing, he punches the plane and is surprised to find that the aluminum exterior collapses under his hand. The outer shell of the plan turns out to be light and easy to break, so Brian uses the hatchet to cut away large pieces of the aluminum. Excited, Brian cuts more and more of the metal, but in his rush he suddenly drops the hatchet into the lake below.
This moment provides a very literal manifestation of the theme of finding opportunity within resistance. The plane seems solid, but it quickly gives way when Brian hits it, revealing easy access to the next step of Brian’s goal. However, in his eagerness to proceed, Brian forgets to be careful and loses the hatchet, the greatest symbol of his strength and autonomy. This incident suggests that while initiative and self-reliance are important, caution and thoughtfulness remain just as essential.
Themes
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Brian is horrified to see that the hatchet is gone, realizing that without it he has no means of making fire, tools, or weapons. He is unable to believe his own carelessness, thinking that only his old self would have done something so silly, but he is forced to accept that it is gone beneath the water. Although he does not know how deep the lake is, Brian decides that he must dive down and retrieve the hatchet.
Brian perceives the loss of the hatchet as a reemergence of his previous, less competent self. However, he also moves quickly past his moment of despair, showing how much he has actually changed from that previous self. This coexistence of growth and limitation within Brian reflects the balance of beauty and danger in the natural world itself.
Themes
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The Natural World Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Breathing as deeply as he can, Brian attempts to dive to the bottom of the lake. Even going as deep as he can, he is still several feet from the bottom. He surfaces and then tries again, kicking and paddling as hard as he can. This time, he touches the bottom and opens his eyes to search for the hatchet. Brian does not see the hatchet until he is almost out of air, but then he catches sight of it and just manages to grab the handle. He reaches the surface just before he runs out of air.
The parallel between Brian and the natural world becomes even clearer here, as he must literally submerge himself in nature in order to regain his means of autonomy. Brian does succeed in getting the hatchet back, but only by giving himself up to lake. Again, Brian’s search for independence leads inevitably to a more intense connection to the world around him.
Themes
Independence vs. Connection Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
After recovering his breath, Brian returns to the raft and continues to use the hatchet to cut into the body of the plane. He makes a big enough hole to move partway inside, but sees nothing there. He realizes that he will have to go all the way inside to look for the pack. He continues cutting away the aluminum, saving the pieces of metal as he goes. Finally, he has cleared away most of the outside and can see the metal frame of the plane extending down into the water.
Here, Brian hopes that using the hatchet will allow him to get the survival pack without going all the way inside the plane, but again, it becomes clear that immersing himself in the thing he fears will be the only way to get what he wants.
Themes
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Brian hesitates to go inside, worried that the plane could sink. However, he reasons that it has been stable for two days and hasn’t moved while he worked on it[rw1], so he climbs into the water with his body inside the supports and cables of the plane’s frame. Brian dives down feet-first several times, feeling for the survival pack, until he finally touches it with his foot. He dives down one more time, head first, and grabs the cloth bag. Eyes open, Brian catches sight of what was once the pilot’s head, now a nearly bare skull with the flesh eaten away by fish. Horrified, Brian vomits in the water and barely manages to return to the surface with the survival pack.
As Brian gains access to the inside of the plane, the natural world comes together with a relic of the civilized world. The water and the plane both block Brian’s way to the survival pack, symbolizing his continuing need to confront the harsh realities of both his home life and his life in the wilderness. The gruesome sight of the pilot’s head brings this reality into even sharper focus. The tragedy of the pilot’s death and the crash continues to hang over Brian, and he feels the agony of it even after all of his successful survival. This episode indicates that emotional growth is an ongoing process, and something that Brian will need to continue even away from the wilderness.
Themes
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The Natural World Theme Icon
Brian is overcome with fear for several minutes, trying to forget what he saw. Eventually, he can breathe again and hears the “peace sounds” of the birds and trees, which begin to calm him. Working slowly, Brian wriggles back out of the frame of the plane and pulls the cloth bag with him, though it gets stuck several times. Eventually, he gets it out onto the raft.
Here, nature explicitly provides Brian with support and comfort, simply through its existence. Knowing that the peaceful balance of nature is still there allows Brian to continue his difficult task. The comfort he draws from basic existence of nature hints at the way Brian will continue to rely on his memories of the lake after returning home.
Themes
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As evening falls, Brian pushes the raft back to shore, getting weaker and weaker as he goes. After he manages to move the survival kit onto the land, he spends hours dragging it down the shore back to his camp, fighting the mosquitos as he goes. At last, Brian arrives at his shelter and immediately falls asleep.
This final stretch emphasizes that the mission to get the survival pack has been one of Brian’s greatest challenges yet. The intensity of the difficulty he faces makes the rewards he finds in the pack all the more meaningful.
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