I re-read Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet for the first time since junior high and I was surprised to learn that the essence of the story is similar to Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Hatchet was published in 1987 and follows the story of 13 year old Brian Robeson who is stranded in the Canadian wilderness following a small plane crash that killed the pilot. Armed with only a hatchet given to him by his mother, Brian must survive in the wild alone. Dafoe’s Crusoe is an adventurer and travels the world by boat. It was when he is left shipwrecked and stranded on an unknown island that he is left to survive.
Both are considered to be adventure novels that detail the means of survival but the interesting twist is that both character must not only survive physically but mentally as well. Brian must come to grips with who he has become following his parents divorce. Crusoe must come to grips with the sins he has committed in his past in order to survive. Both struggles are not only physical but spiritual. There spiritual struggles are displayed in vivid flashbacks that haunt both characters. Brian thinks back to how his parents split and the time spent with each of them. Although these flashbacks cause him emotional pain, they also provide key elements that help him physically survive. Crusoe is visited by an angel that tells him to repent for his sins and because of this he finds the emotional drive to continue onward to live.
The Hatchet displays a teenage boys rite of passage and his struggles as he grows to become more mature and self aware. The hatchet given to him by his mother is the catalyst. It represents the sharp emotional pain Brian felt during the divorce and he keeps it close for survival. In Crusoe’s tale repentance is required in order for Crusoe to master his situation. Both stories seem to have one thing in common, both characters must come to grips with their past and reach a sort of nirvana in order to continue to grow. They must be okay with who they were, who they are now and strive to become a realized person in the future. Both tales are about finding inner light in the vastness of the wilderness.
As a teacher I would draw these comparisons for my students to help them understand Crusoe’s character. I would introduce Brian’s character as someone they can identify with and how his struggles are similar to Crusoe even though he is only thirteen. To inspire my students to become active readers and readers for the future I think providing similar stories with characters they can relate to is key. I want my students to be able to read Robinson Crusoe with the understanding that Crusoe situation is very plausible and that Brian Robeson went through a similar situation. This is how he overcomes his obstacles. Learning these themes can provide a foundation for my students to learn valuable life lessons.
Robinson Crusoe can be found in its entirety here.
For more information about the film adaption of The Hatchet visit here.