Study Guide

Hatchet Wisdom and Knowledge

By Gary Paulsen

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Wisdom and Knowledge

In Hatchet, Brian's survival depends on his ability to figure out how to take care of himself: how to find food and shelter, how to avoid being attacked by a dangerous animal, how to hold out until he is rescued. You know, the usual.

The knowledge that he needs would have been common just a few hundred years ago, but he's forced to patch together bits and scraps of information gleaned from books, TV shows, classes in school, anything he can think of. Knowledge, in the "civilized" world of Brian's past, usually comes from second-hand sources; it's something someone tells you. In the world of the woods, on the other hand, knowledge is first-hand and largely experiential; that is, it comes from direct experience. The only way Brian can learn how to build a fire, or catch a fish, is by actually doing it. And, most often, by doing it again and again… and again. Practice makes perfect, right?

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. Does Brian learn anything during his time in the woods besides the specific skills that he uses to survive (like catching a foolbird or starting a fire using only a hatchet)? Does he learn anything about the world or about himself that will be useful when he gets back to the city? If so, what?
  2. Do you think Brian will remember the things he learned during his stay in the woods? Does knowledge disappear when you stop using it? Do you think knowledge gained through direct experience stays with you longer than knowledge you got through other means?
  3. Does the book's exploration of different kinds of knowledge make you think that some kinds are better than others? Is all knowledge good, or are some kinds of knowledge more valuable?
  4. If how to build fires, find food, and survive in the natural world was common knowledge through much of man's history, should we be worried about the fact that so few of us know how to do those things now? Have we lost something important? Or is it simply knowledge that we no longer need? 

Chew on This

In Hatchet, real knowledge can only be gained through experience.

Hatchet suggests that modern man has lost an understanding of who he really is, an understanding that can only be gained through immersion in the natural world.

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