At the end of Hatchet, Brian is rescued and returns to his life in the city. Simple, right? Not so much.
It's certainly a relief to the reader to know that he's safe, and that he'll no longer have to struggle to survive in the wilderness. But at the same time, the ending feels a little anti-climactic, doesn't it? We've already watched Brian go through so much; we've seen him sink to the very depths of despair and then fight his way back up again. He's learned, the hard way, how to take care of himself in the harsh, unforgiving conditions of the natural world.
After all that, having the pilot suddenly show up to save Brian somehow doesn't pack the emotional punch that we might have expected it to earlier in the book. It's fitting that Brian, having discovered so much about himself and his abilities, reacts so calmly, almost matter-of-factly, to the arrival of the pilot. Like the seasoned veteran he has become, Brian welcomes his guest with composure and courtesy: "My name is Brian Robeson," he says, "Would you like something to eat?" (19.28).
Were you satisfied with this rescue? Were you hoping for more drama?
The epilogue that follows the final scene fills us in on Brian's life after his return from the woods, and it also gives us some background information about some of the plants and animals he encountered during the story. Brian is, as we might expect, permanently changed in some ways by his experiences. He's more observant, more thoughtful, and no longer takes for granted the amazing resources of modern life.
With all the changes, though, Brian's family situation stays pretty much the same. Brian's newfound self-reliance is a huge deal, but it can't magically make his family problems go away, or make it any easier for him to tell his father "the Secret" he's been hiding about his parents' breakup. We don't know about you, but Shmoop loves the realism of this, and the way in which Paulsen levels with his readers. He doesn't try to sugarcoat anything because he's writing for kids.
One more note: a lot of readers have actually complained to Paulsen about the ending of the book—or at least about the fact that Brian gets rescued before winter sets in and the going really gets tough. If you're one of those who feel that the ending of Hatchet lets Brian off too easy, be sure to read Brian's Winter. This cool-idea-alert sequel continues the story from the point of his finding the survival pack, but this time, he doesn't activate the emergency signal.