Discussion Questions for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
At my school, we often handle our discussion questions by chapter as I have done here. However, my questions are a bit broader than we usually assign as homework, as I feel that you can have more of a conversation if questions are open-ended.
We learn right away that Brian’s parents are divorced. What do you think the Secret is? Are words painful?
Chapters 2 and 3
We are with Brian as he makes decisions and the plane crashes. As it goes down, his head is struck, the plane plunges into the lake, and he fights his way out of the water. He loses consciousness, and, as he does, he thinks of the Secret (beginning of Chapter 4). Why does he think of this particular memory?
After surviving the crash, what is the 1st trial or challenge that Brian faces and why is this so unexpected?
Brian thinks about whether or not he has good luck or bad luck (pg. 40). Which type of luck do you believe he has? Why?
List the problems that Brian already has to face, at least the ones which have surfaced in this chapter.
Brian thinks of his English teacher who said “stay positive and stay on top of things.” (pg. 49) Do you think Brian can stay positive and stay on top of things in this situation?
Brian addresses his problems and solves two of them right away. What were they, and how did he solve them? Were they good solutions or not?
After he is sick from the berries, Brian’s mind once again goes back to the Secret. With so many other problems, why does Brian think about it now?
After only three days in the woods, he begins to call his crude shelter “home.” Why do you think he does this?
In this chapter, Brian has his first encounter with a wild animal, and at first he is frozen in fear. This incident shows that Brian is changing. How has he changed?
Brian has his second encounter with a wild animal, and because of this event, he learns the first rule of survival. What is it?
While sleeping, Brian dreams of his father and his friend. In the dream they are trying to give him a message. He understands the message and knows it is imperative for his survival. What is the message and what does he accomplish?
Who (or what) does Brian think of as a friend and a guard?
With each chapter, Brian is changing more. Describe some of the changes that are taking place as Brian spends more time in the wilderness.
Brian is now aware that he is changing and he is beginning to understand some of these changes. What does Brian notice that is different about himself?
What happens when the search plane fails to find Brian?
Brian has now been in the wild for 47 days. What realization comes to him as he sees the wolves?
What two truths did he discover after the search plane failed to find him?
What were some of the mistakes he made as he learned to survive?
What is the “vital knowledge that drives all creatures in the forest” (pg. 129)?
What is the “second most important thing about nature” (pg. 131)?
Brian continues to make mistakes. What has he done to overcome them?
How does Brian discover the “secret key” which will enable him to get meat?
Two major events take place in this chapter – both of which almost kill Brian. The second incident, the tornado, destroys so much that he feels is back to square one. Is he?
Brian finds that the tornado has changed more than he expected. What do you think he will find on the plane?
What about his “reverse question” (pg. 170)? How do you think he will remember these days in the wilderness?
While Brian is chopping his way into the plane, he drops the hatchet. He doesn’t believe this could happen to him now. Why?
Brian manages to retrieve the survival kit from the plane, but the experience is more traumatic than he expects it to be. What helps return Brian to peace?
As Brian sorts through his “treasure” – the items from the survival kit – he has mixed feelings. Why?
Just as Brian finally reaches the survival kit, he is rescued. Why do you think Paulsen chose this time for Brian to be found?
What changes took place in Brian? List the temporary ones and the permanent, life-long changes. List the physical ones and the emotional ones.
Why didn’t Brian ever share the Secret with his father?
Page 4 of 4
Book Club Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
• How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
• Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
• Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Hatchet:
1. What is Brian's state of mind as he heads from New York to visit his father in Canada? What affect does his mother's "secret" have on him? Why won't he tell his father...or his mother that he knows about her affair? How does his mother respond to Brian's moodiness?
2. Talk about Brian's decision to commit suicide—what finally drives him to this point? In what way is he changed by his failed attempt?
3. What inner traits does Brian develop to survive in the wilderness? To which of those qualities do you most attribute his survival? Consider patience, self-control, perseverance.... What else?
4. From the beginnings of literature, stories have pitted man against nature. In what way does Hatchet turn that theme on its head? How does Brian's relationship to nature change during the course of this novel? What lessons does he learn about the natural world?
5. Brian's English teacher once told him that his mind has the power to control his body. In what way has Brian achieved greater harmony between mind and body?
6. At one point, Brian catches a glimpse of his reflection in the lake. What does he see? How has he changed physically?
7. When Brian finds the survival pack, he rejects the rifle. Why?
8. Hatchet is a coming-of-age story—in the extreme. Once rescued and returned to civilization, how has Brian's survival experience changed him? In what way is he a different boy than the one who stepped on the plane at the beginning of the story? How, for instance, does he come to view his parents' divorce?
9. Put yourself in Brian's shoes. How would you fare in his situation? Which personal qualities and skills would you draw upon to survive? Could you survive?
10. What is the significance of the title? Why would Gary Paulsen have chosen "hatchet" as the name of his book? What does the hatchet symbolize?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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