My second year of teaching was the first year that I was able to plan my curriculum from day one to day 180. I was thrilled! I planned out exactly which novels I thought my 6th grade ELA classes would resonate with and I chose the most modern books my school had available in the library. These past several years were not kind to teachers’ schedules, and as the school year progressed, I found my time available for teaching the first novel had been cut short. My teaching friends recommended I switch to a shorter book, one I had avoided because of its age: Hatchet.
The reaction of my students to this thirty-plus-year-old book was astounding: they were enthralled. Student discussion was energized; they asked questions during the reading and made remarks that showed not just hearing, but comprehension. Even the students who hated reading the most would make excited observations about what weapons Brian used or what game he hunted. My students went on to reference Hatchet during every unit for the rest of the school year.
What made Hatchet so appealing to these twenty-first century students? Students that had never existed in a time without social media and the internet? In the literary sense, Hatchet is a realistic, timeless novel. The setting is undisturbed nature; the inciting incident is realistic even for today’s technology. Students are able to feel that the events of this book could happen to them right now. What makes Hatchet the most inspiring, however, is the self-sufficiency that Brian develops in order to survive. The Britannica Dictionary defines “self-sufficient” as “able to live or function without help or support from others.” Self-sufficiency sounds exciting to us because it means that we are capable and resilient: both good things. We love the idea that we could potentially throw aside society and still be able to thrive. Brian’s self-sufficiency enthuses even the youngest of our hearts.
We are very efficient at idolizing good things, and self-sufficiency is something we as a society can easily exalt. The American phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” exemplifies this attitude; books such as Walden Pond and movies such as Cast Away inspire our yearning to test ourselves. We tend to glorify an extremist view of self-sufficiency: total dependency on self with no external help. Within this idolization lies a trap that is easy to fall into: believing that our success is on our shoulders alone and that needing others is a weakness. We can easily become discouraged and hopeless in this mentality.
Hatchet endures time because it takes a realistic look at self-sufficiency. This attitude can be positive: Brian’s position in Hatchet forced him to hone his skills and to develop new ones in order to survive in the wilderness. He learned how to take care of himself and how to respect nature. This self-reliance was vital for his survival and helped him become confident in his abilities—good things. Hatchet also excels because it succeeds in showing the realistic consequences of venerating radical autonomy: it shows us Brian’s hopelessness and despair. Hatchet helps us learn to value the companionship and help of others.
Society’s idolization of self-sufficiency overlooks our actual needs. A purer view of sufficiency is encouraged by the Scriptures: we are to be capable and resilient while relying on Christ and being in fellowship with other Christians. Hatchet shows the downside of extreme self-reliance: Brian struggled with despairing loneliness and hopelessness that he could not resolve. This loneliness influenced him to make an attempt on his own life.
Believers are created to be in fellowship with and to rely on other believers and on Christ. We are able to rest in the peace that comes from knowing that we do not have to survive in this life alone and without help. We as humans are not able to provide ourselves with everything we need for our existence; this pursuit becomes stressful and tiresome, and can leave us feeling insufficient and powerless. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But He [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Christ gives help and hope. He provided a sacrifice that we could not provide, and He remains in a relationship with us sustaining us for all of eternity. Our human nature means we will have weaknesses we cannot fix that keep us from being totally self-sufficient, but our weaknesses give Him all the more power to show His glory through us and to uphold us with His own perfect power. He wants us to be dedicated and capable, and He provides fellow believers to come alongside us in the faith to encourage and sustain us. There is peace and joy in knowing that we are not enough on our own because the One who upholds us is the Creator and King of the Universe!
May we read and enjoy Hatchet because it’s a well-written and fascinating book, but also because it’s a timeless reminder that we need more than physical abilities in order to live a joyous and hopeful life—we need Christ!