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
Author’s Purpose in Hatchet
With this “Hatchet” study guide, besides themes, you’ll also want to consider the author’s purpose when writing the book. Why did Gary Paulsen write this story?
Remember, authors write for several reasons.
- To entertain: Authors write to entertain their readers. They have a story that they feel will move their readers in some way. The story may be funny, sad, thrilling, scary, or mysterious. Most fiction books are written to entertain readers. This does not mean the writer doesn’t have an important point to get across.
- To persuade: Writers often write persuasive pieces. These can often be found in editorial sections of magazines and newspapers. With persuasive articles or stories, there may be a call to action. The author is trying to persuade the reader to do something.
- To inform: Many non-fiction writers have this purpose in mind when they are writing. They want to inform their readers about a subject.
With this “Hatchet” study guide, it is probably easy for you to see what Gary Paulsen’s purpose was. He wrote this book to entertain middle-grade readers. He had an idea of a boy surviving in the wilderness with a hatchet and struggling with his parents’ divorce. He thought this would make an entertaining novel, especially for boys.
Some people might argue that he also wrote this book to inform people how to survive in the wilderness. Although parts of “Hatchet” do explain survival techniques, he did not write a survival guide. If Paulsen’s main purpose was to inform, then he would have written a non-fiction book about surviving in the wilderness.
When you are trying to figure out author’s purpose, it will help to see if the book is fiction or non-fiction. Most of the time, fiction books are written to entertain readers, and non-fiction books are written to inform people.
Use this “Hatchet” study guide to help you discuss themes and author’s purpose during class while you are reading this great Gary Paulsen novel!
This post is part of the series: Studying Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- Understanding Novels: Free Activities For the Novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- Hatchet Quotes and Explanations
- Questions and Summary for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- Hatchet Review for Theme and Author's Purpose