Study Guide

Hatchet Exploration

By Gary Paulsen

Exploration

Brian had once had an English teacher, a guy named Perpich, who was always talking about being positive, thinking positive, staying on top of things. That's how Perpich had put it—stay positive and stay on top of things. Brian thought of him now—wondered how to stay positive and stay on top of this. All Perpich would say is that I have to get motivated. He was always telling kids to get motivated. (5.39)

Do you think this is a good memory for Brian to draw on as he thinks about surviving alone in the wilderness? Does just having a positive attitude change your ability to succeed in a difficult situation?

Still, he thought. Still. As his stomach moved toward his backbone he became less and less fussy. Some natives in the world ate grasshoppers and ants and if they could do that he could get a raw egg down.

He picked one up and tried to break the shell and found it surprisingly tough. Finally, using the hatchet he sharpened a stick and poked a hole in the egg. He widened the hole with his finger and looked inside. Just an egg. It had a dark yellow yolk and not so much white as he thought there would be.

Just an egg.

Food.

Just an egg he had to eat. (10.31-35)

Here we see Brian's exploratory nature at work. His willingness to try new things is being tested, literally, by the prospect of eating raw turtle eggs. Mmm.

He scrambled down the side of the bluff and trotted to the edge of the lake, looking down into the water. Somehow it had never occurred to him to look inside the water—only at the surface. The sun was flashing back up into his eyes and he moved off to the side and took his shoes off and waded out fifteen feet. Then he turned and stood still, with the sun at his back, and studied the water again.

It was, he saw after a moment, literally packed with life. Small fish swam everywhere, some narrow and long, some round, most of them three or four inches long, some a bit larger and many smaller. There was a patch of mud off to the side, leading into deeper water, and he could see old clam shells there, so there must be clams. (11.20-21)

Just being in a new situation can cause you to see things in a whole new way. Part of exploring and looking for new solutions is being open to seeing things from a different perspective, and our boy Brian does just that.

He needed something to spring the spear forward, some way to make it move faster than the fish—some motive force. A string that snapped—or a bow. A bow and arrow. A thin, long arrow with the point in the water and the bow pulled back so that all he had to do was release the arrow…yes. That was it. (12.6)

This is free indirect discourse at work, Shmoopers. (Check out our section on "Writing Style" for more). The narrator (via Brian) walks us step by step through to a solution. We hope you're taking notes.

With his bow, with an arrow fashioned by his own hands he had done food, had found a way to live. The bow had given him this way and he exulted in it, in the bow, in the arrow, in the fish, in the hatchet, in the sky. He stood and walked from the water, still holding the fish and arrow and bow against the sky, seeing them as they fit his arms, as they were part of him. (13.30)

The reward of curiosity and the ability to explore new ways of doing things is, in this case, life itself—food and the possibility of survival. Not a bad prize.

Mistakes.

He tried to learn from the mistakes. He couldn't bury food again, couldn't leave it in the shelter, because something like a bear could get at it right away. It had to be high, somehow, high and safe. (14.23-24)

Part of the exploratory attitude is learning from mistakes, trying new ways when the old ways don't seem to work. Even if Brian sometimes feels down and depressed, he never lets his mistakes stop him from trying a new approach to a problem.

When he had gone halfway around the lake, and had jumped up twenty or so birds, he finally gave up and sat at the base of a tree. He had to work this out, see what he was doing wrong. There were birds there, and he had eyes—he just had to bring the two things together.

Looking wrong, he thought. I am looking wrong. More, more than that I am being wrong somehow—I am doing it the wrong way. Fine—sarcasm came into his thoughts—I know that, thank you. I know I'm doing it wrong. But what is right? (15.11-12)

Brian achieves what he does only through repeated trial and error, and by reexamining his methods again and again. Lesson learned.

There had been many First Days.

First Arrow Day—when he had used thread from his tattered old piece of windbreaker and some pitch from a stump to put slivers of feather on a dry willow shaft and make an arrow that would fly correctly. Not accurately—he never got really good with it—but fly correctly so that if a rabbit or a foolbird sat in one place long enough, close enough, and he had enough arrows, he could hit it. (16.2-3)

Brian really doesn't know what he's doing most of the time—he's just making things up as he goes along, trying the solution that seems to have the best chance of success. And that means that most of what he achieves isn't perfect, just good enough to get him by. That's how it works.

At this point he sat back on the beach and studied the problem again. Sense, he had to use sense. That's all it took to solve problems—just sense. (17.20)

Okay, maybe that's not all it takes, but you sure can't solve problems without it, can you?

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