Study Guide

Hatchet Perseverance

By Gary Paulsen

Perseverance

He started ripping the bark, using his fingernails at first, and when that didn't work he used the sharp edge of the hatchet, cutting the bark in thin slivers, hairs so fine they were almost not there. It was painstaking work, slow work, and he stayed with it for over two hours. Twice he stopped for a handful of berries and once to go to the lake for a drink. Then back to work, the sun on his back, until at last he had a ball of fluff as big as a grapefruit—dry birchbark fluff. (9.16)

Step 1: make a plan. Step 2: follow through. Brian is one determined guy. This is one of Brian's most striking characteristics—and one of the things that helps him stay alive.

He would take [the eggs] now and store them and save them and eat one a day, and he realized as he thought it that he had forgotten that they might come. The searchers. Surely, they would come before he could eat all the eggs at one a day.

He had forgotten to think about them and that wasn't good. He had to keep thinking of them because if he forgot them and did not think of them they might forget about him.

And he had to keep hoping.

He had to keep hoping. (10.43-46)

The idea that he's going to be rescued someday is really important to Brian. It's what allows him to keep hoping, and to find the strength he needs to keep doing what's necessary to survive. Is hope a necessary part of perseverance?

A good laugh, that—cleaning up the camp. All he did was shake out his windbreaker and hang it in the sun to dry the berry juice that had soaked in, and smooth the sand where he slept.

But it was a mental thing. He had gotten depressed thinking about how they hadn't found him yet, and when he was busy and had something to do the depression seemed to leave.

So there were things to do. (11.3-5)

More than once in the book, Brian relies on keeping himself busy and making concrete plans to help buoy his spirits. Just having a goal and the determination to improve his situation a little seems to help him keep truckin'.

He had worked on the fish spear until it had become more than just a tool. He'd spent hours and hours on it. (12.5)

The fish spear is "more than just a tool" because of the hours of work that Brian has put into it. Why is this? Will it catch fish any better than, say, a fish spear that Brian bought at the store? What exactly is it about making the spear himself that makes it so special?

He could not play the game without hope; could not play the game without a dream. They had taken it all away from him now, they had turned away from him and there was nothing for him now. The plane gone, his family gone, all of it gone. They would not come. He was alone and there was nothing for him. (12.30)

Without the "dream" of rescue, everything he's been doing suddenly seems pointless and false—just a "game."

To where he wanted to die. He had settled into the gray funk deeper and still deeper until finally, in the dark, he had gone up on the ridge and taken the hatchet and tried to end it by cutting himself.

Madness. A hissing madness that took his brain. There had been nothing for him then and he tried to become nothing but the cutting had been hard to do, impossible to do, and he had at last fallen to his side, wishing for death, wishing for an end, and slept only didn't sleep.

With his eyes closed and his mind open he lay on the rock through the night, lay and hated and wished for it to end and thought the word Clouddown, Clouddown through that awful night. Over and over the word, wanting all his clouds to come down, but in the morning he was still there. (13.13-15)

This is Brian at his lowest moment. Without the hope of being rescued, he sees no reason to go on. We never get to see what happens between the suicide attempt and forty-two-days-later Brian. What do you think changed that allows him to persevere in the end?

Of course he had made a lot of mistakes. He smiled now, walking up the lakeshore after the wolves were gone, thinking of the early mistakes; the mistakes that came before he realized that he had to find new ways to be what he had become. (13.19)

Brian's ability to survive sure isn't based on his natural skills at hunting or making a shelter or building a fire. When you get right down to it, his success comes from his willingness to go forward despite all of his mistakes—his willingness to persevere.

It had been a feast day, his first feast day, and a celebration of being alive and the new way he had of getting food. By the end of that day, when it became dark and he lay next to the fire with his stomach full of fish and grease from the meat smeared around his mouth, he could feel new hope building in him. Not hope that he would be rescued—that was gone.

But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself.

Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of tough hope. (13.35-37)

In a note in the 20th-anniversary edition of Hatchet, Gary Paulsen says that if he had a motto, it would probably be "I am full of tough hope." Tough hope, as defined here, is the hope that comes out of despair, the hope that knows that life goes on even though things will not be easy. Got tough hope?

Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience—waiting and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking. (15.31)

We often think that perseverance goes hand in hand with strength—you know, the boxer who lasts through ten rounds and still gets up off the floor after it's all over. Brian points out that perseverance can be a passive quality, too—the ability to wait when it's necessary, and sometimes to do nothing at all.

Never. Never in all the food, all the hamburgers and malts, all the fries or meals at home, never in all the candy or pies or cakes, never in all the roasts or steaks or pizzas, never in all the submarine sandwiches, never never never had he tasted anything as fine as that first bite.

First Meat. (15.34-35)

This is starting to become a pattern. Something about the fact that he was the one who had to do all the work to get his food makes it better than any meat he's had before. What is Paulsen trying to say about the relationship between perseverance—or just hard work—and the fruits of labor?

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