Brian wakes up in the night to a growling sound and a terrible, rotting smell. Unable to see in the dark, he hears a slithering sound inside his shelter and throws his hatchet toward the sound. The hatchet misses, sparking where it hits the rock wall, and Brian suddenly feels an excruciating pain in his leg. He screams and sees a dark shape slithering out of the shelter door.
With the hatchet by his side, symbolizing his ability to take control of his situation, Brian is seemingly prepared to handle the intruder. However, this preparation does no good. Because Brian does not understand the natural world well enough, his attempt to take control backfires and ends up causing him pain.
Brian touches his leg and discovers that he has been attacked by a porcupine, leaving his leg full of sharp quills. Forcing himself to pull the quills out and overcome by the pain, Brian gives in to self-pity again. He starts to cry and feels unable to carry on. After a while, Brian stops crying and realizes what he will come to regard as “the most important rule of survival”: self-pity is not helpful.
Brian realizes the essential futility of self-pity, moving into a new phase of maturity and showing that he has begun to learn from his repeated struggles with despair. Additionally, this incident is an early example of a natural danger—in this case, the porcupine’s attack—leading to a useful revelation rather than just pain.
After falling asleep again, Brian dreams of his father and then of his friend Terry. In the dream, Brian watches his father trying to talk to him, but he is unable to hear the words coming out of his mouth. Then, his father vanishes, and Brian sees Terry in the park, smiling and building a fire in a barbecue pit. He repeatedly points to the fire, frustrating Brian, who does not understand what he means.
Even though he is alone in the wilderness and attempting to be independent, it is still the memory of those he loves that inspires Brian to new revelations, again showing how important it is to balance personal independence with outside connection. The muted words from Brian’s father and silent smiles from Terry also underscore how difficult it is to create meaning language is absent.
Brian wakes up in the morning light, again hungry and thirsty. While eating raspberries, he sees the hatchet lying where he threw it and picks it up. Then, as the light hits the blade of the hatchet, his dream returns to him, and he remembers the sparks that flew from the hatchet when it hit the rock. He realizes that his dream was trying to tell him that he can make fire with the hatchet.
With the realization that he may be able to make fire, Brian succeeds in drawing a lesson from a very painful experience, immediately demonstrating the value of his decision to move beyond self-pity. This new revelation also adds further meaning to the porcupine’s attack, deepening the value that Brian gains from the natural world.
Brian examines the wall where the hatchet hit and finds the harder, darker stone that caused the hatchet to spark. He quickly learns that he can make sparks by swinging the hatchet against the stone. Delighted, Brian believes that he will be able to make fire.
The creation of sparks is the most significant use of the hatchet so far, representing a new phase in Brian’s independent identity. Taking on this exciting new task brings Brian joy and a sense of purpose.