Study Guide

Hatchet Wisdom and Knowledge

By Gary Paulsen

Wisdom and Knowledge

Vampires, he thought. Apparently they didn't like the deep of night, perhaps because it was too cool, and they couldn't take the direct sunlight. But in that gray time in the morning, when it began to get warm and before the sun was full up and hot—he couldn't believe them. Never, in all the reading, in the movies he had watched on television about the outdoors, never once had they mentioned the mosquitoes or flies. All they ever showed on the naturalist shows was beautiful scenery or animals jumping around having a good time. Nobody ever mentioned mosquitoes and flies. (4.38)

Didn't anyone ever tell Brian to bring bug spray? We guess not. Brian's "experience" of nature—through television and books—turns out to have missed one of the most fundamental, unavoidable realities he meets when experiencing nature directly: mini blood-suckers.

The backs of his hands were puffy and his eyes were almost swollen shut from the mosquitoes, and he saw everything through a narrow squint.

Not that there was much to see, he thought, scratching the bites. In front of him lay the lake, blue and deep. (4.40-41)

Brian's first impression of the lake is that there isn't much to see. Not so much, B. His first mistake? Thinking that what's on the surface—what's obvious—is all there is.

What had he read or seen that told him about food in the wilderness? Hadn't there been something? A show, yes, a show on television about air force pilots and some kind of course they took. A survival course. (6.22)

Brian is really dragging up every scrap of knowledge he can to help him survive. Oh, and now you can tell your parents that TV isn't all bad, right? Watching it may even be necessary to your survival. Genius.

Close—he was close. He repositioned the nest, made a new and smaller dent with his thumb, and struck again.

More sparks, a slight glow, then nothing.

It's me, he thought. I'm doing something wrong. I do not know this—a cave dweller would have had a fire by now, a Cro-Magnon man would have a fire by now—but I don't know this. I don't know how to make a fire. (9.19-21)

We often think of ourselves as more sophisticated and more knowledgeable about the world than people in the past might have been, right? But Brian realizes that most of us are probably totally clueless when it comes to the basic skills needed for survival. Kind of flips our whole "superior modern man" thing on its head, huh?

What makes fire? He thought back to school. To all those science classes. Had he ever learned what made a fire? Did a teacher ever stand up there and say, "This is what makes a fire…" (9.26)

Brian reflects on the fact that, in all his schooling, he's never studied the practical process of making a fire. Brian may have studied what chemical components make up a fire, but he must have missed the class where they were sent to the woods to try it for themselves.

[The turtle] had come up from the water for a reason, a good reason, and he must try to understand the reason, he must change to fully understand the reason himself or he would not make it. (10.22)

In order to understand the creatures around him, Brian realizes, he needs to learn to think in a whole new way. It's not just a case of missing knowledge, but of developing a totally different way of looking at the world around him.

He had to "invent" the bow and arrow—he almost laughed as he moved out of the water and put his shoes on. The morning sun was getting hot and he took his shirt off. Maybe that was how it really happened, way back when—some primitive man tried to spear fish and it didn't work and he "invented" the bow and arrow. Maybe it was always that way, discoveries happened because they needed to happen. (12.7)

Brian is learning the truth behind the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention." Again and again in the book we see that Brian's creativity is inspired by the need to adapt and survive. Here Brian recognizes himself as part of a long line of creative humans whose problem-solving skills were the only thing standing between themselves and extinction. Maybe that's what the Google guys were thinking when they came up with their brilliant idea: "Man, I really need to know, right now, how much the average octopus weighs!"

Brian stood at the end of the long part of the L of the lake and watched the water, smelled the water, listened to the water, was the water. (13.1)

In order to catch his prey, Brian has to observe the world around him with complete focus, using all of his senses. Hey, no texting in the woods, dude. Like so many other things that Brian is learning, this is a kind of focus that isn't necessary in the day-to-day life of the city.

A hundred funny cartoons he had seen about skunks. Cute cartoons about the smell of skunks, cartoons to laugh at and joke about, but when the spray hit there was nothing funny about it—he was completely blind for almost two hours. (14.13)

Ah, reality. How you differ from TV. Pepe Le Pew this ain't.

And that had been the secret. He had been looking for feathers, for the color of the bird, for a bird sitting there. He had to look for the outline instead, had to see the shape instead of the feathers or color, had to train his eyes to see the shape […]

It was like turning on a television. Suddenly he could see things he never saw before. In just moments, it seemed, he saw three birds before they flew, saw them sitting and got close to one of them, moving slowly, got close enough to try a shot with his bow. (15.16-17)

Like so much of the wisdom that Brian discovers in the book, his ability to track and successfully hunt the foolbirds isn't so much a piece of information. It's not something that one person can tell to another or something specific that you could learn from a book or a TV show. Instead, it's a whole new way of looking at something, a whole new way of seeing. Kind of like Star Wars 3D, only without pod races.

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