There are two main "Hatchet" themes: Physical survival and Emotional/Mental survival
Physical survival: After the plane crashes and Brian is alone in the wilderness with only his hatchet, he must survive until he can be rescued. This means he needs to fulfill his basic needs: hunger, thirst, and warmth (shelter). When you are reading "Hatchet", ask yourself: What does Brian eat? How does he get food? What does Brian drink? Where does Brian find shelter? The answers to these questions will help you understand how Gary Paulsen writes about the theme of physical survival.
Brian also must protect himself from physical danger. For example, when a porcupine comes into the cave, he throws his hatchet at it to scare it away. What does he do when he comes up against larger animals? How does he survive? What about his injuries?
During this "Hatchet" review, don't forget about the chapters when Brian learns to make fire. This is a huge development in the novel to aid his physical survival. Why is it important for Brian to make fire? How does he learn to do it with his hatchet and things he finds in the wilderness?
Emotional/Mental survival: Brian's parents are divorced, and his mom is seeing someone else. Brian struggles with whether or not he should tell his dad. With this struggle comes feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. Even in the end of the story, after all he went through in the wilderness, he is still thinking about his parents' situation and what he should do about it. He sees his parents come together in their love for him, but he realizes that they will not get back together.
"Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen is about Brian's inner struggle over a life-changing event out of his control and his outer struggle to survive in the wilderness with only his hatchet.
When you are doing a "Hatchet" review, you also may want to consider these minor themes:
- Man vs. Nature
- Coming of age
- Perseverance, determination, and positive thinking