Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hatchet

Student post that richly describes symbolism.
Paulsen, G. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Bradbury Press.

Hatchet is realistic fiction novel that centers around a 13 year old boy that is stranded alone in the wilderness with only his hatchet to help him survive. I was in middle school the first time I read this book and honestly couldn't remember much about it. I love to watch survival shows, be it Les Stround (Survivor Man) or Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild), so I was excited to re-read the book and re-familiarize myself with this wonderful novel. Hatchet meets the quintessential definition of a survival tale in that Brian, the main character, is faced with physical danger when he becomes stranded in the Canadian wilderness and through this process his character undertakes a maturation journey.
Hatchet brings to the forefront issues that children unfortunately have to face in their lives. In the book Brian is going to spend the summer with his father because his parents are now divorced, this is a very common and unfortunate fact in our children's lives today, and as we read through the book we also understand the internal conflict he faces having seen his mother cheat on his father. An ironic part of this tale is how Brian struggles to cope with the negative memories of his mother while using her gift, the hatchet, as his lone survival tool. I found that the shape of the lake served as a symbol or was symbolic of Brian's situation. The lake was depicted as being "L" shaped and to me this represented the loneliness of Brian's situation both in the wilderness and his life back home. The shape of the lake could also symbolize Brian's hatchet since hatchets tend to have an "L" shape to them.
Throughout the tale Brian is forced to face with external and internal conflicts. He battles the memories of his mother's infidelity and fights to survive in a wilderness. Again, this is indicative of a true survival story because we can see ourselves (or children can place themselves) into Brian's situation. Reading this story now, as an adult, really brought to light the symbolism that is rampant in the story. Begin lost in the wilderness could stand for being lost in life (this is particularly true for students that are teenagers or close to being teenagers). Having to fight for survival and feeling alone with only a hatchet (or friend) to help you get through. I saw Brian's attempts at starting a fire as a metaphor for teachers; you try and at first you may only get a few sparks but with patience and persistence those few sparks ,when directed into the proper place, will turn into a roaring flame.

Being a movie fan I couldn't help but relate the story back to Tom Hank's film Castaway. The plot of the movie and the book are very similar; plane crash, lone survivor and a wilderness as the setting of the tale. Both faced similar conflicts because they were both facing the same foe, mother nature and themselves.I guess Tom's hatchet would have to be Wilson. At least Brian didn't draw a blood face on his hatchet and start talking to it.


The story is listed as having a fifth grade reading level but the I would feel very confident using the book for any grade from fifth through college. A great activity for this book would be keeping a journal and having the students make daily entries as you progress through the book. They could place themselves in Brian's shoes and note how they would feel should they ever find themselves in his place. Another activity would be to hold a class discussion about "What if" situations. What if you became lost? What if you were lost, what is the first thing you would do?

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