“Island of the Blue Dolphins” is based on a true story by a woman who lived on San Nicolas Island. The girl, Karana, was an 18 years old Native American and she lived on an island near California. She was found by a captain and he wrote in his journal everything he found out about her. Karan was left alone on the island by accident and she had to cope on her own with her situation. She spent her days building weapons and tools which helped her survive. In the beginning of the novel we are introduced to the main character and then we have the main event which jumps starts the whole plot.
Karan belonged to a tribe Ghalas-at which inhabited the Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was often visited by strangers mostly because of otter hunting. One such visit will be fatal for the village. Russians came and hell was introduced to the tribe. They were colonizers and they treated the tribe as their inferiors. The Russians thought that they, as an Empire, deserved the waters which belonged to the tribe and everything that was in them. We can see their behavior pattern when they discuss the pray division and their behavior towards nature around them. The tribe perceived the nature as something sacred and their protector while the Russians saw it as a goldmine. The whole situation culminates into a confrontation between the two opposite sides in which most of the tribe men end up killed, including Karan’s father Chowig. The event caused huge changes in the village. Salvation comes from the continents but it doesn’t reach Karan and her brother. Karan didn’t only have to bury her father but her brother also.
The novel contains detailed descriptions of the natural surroundings and the tribe’s tradition, their beliefs and language. We also learn a thing or two about the way they give people and animal their names. Every member had two names – one public and one secret. The secret name was rarely mentioned or shared because by doing that they would waste its power. Karan named her new friends by the things she saw in nature. The places which Karan visits discover the tribe’s history. There are also a lot of descriptions of the male and female relationships, obligations and rights. A Woman wasn’t allowed to carry weapons and they had to draw special signs on their faces if they weren’t married. Their clothes were made out of otter’s skin and they wore necklaces made out of shells.
The ground of the whole novel is Karan’s will to survive after many tragedies. Her grief for her father and brother are filled with desire for revenge and survival. The feelings present in the plot are loneliness and the fear of loneliness. They are emphasized by Karan’s day counting. She kept track of time with the help of sunrises and times of the year. Her days were made out of her work and desire to see a ship and be reunited with her sister again. In the hardest moments, memory-like voices appear and they are described as the sounds of the nature. She can hear her sister in the wind, her father spirit lived in the caves and her ancestral history was drawn on the walls of the caves.
When she accepted that she was alone, Karan decided to do a symbolic embarking into her new life. She burned all of the cabins in the village and searched for a new home. The island wasn’t a good place to be surrounded by memories because you can’t escape from it. She tried and failed once so she decided to stay where she really belonged. Karan got down to business and decided to come up with a revenge plan for her enemies – the feral dogs. Through confrontations with them, she will learn something new about herself and the place she called home. Despite swearing to exterminate all of the dogs from the island because they killed her brother she became friends with one of them. She called her dog Rontu and through the time she spent with him she developed a sense of empathy, responsibility, trust and forgiveness. Rontu and Karan shared the feeling of abandonment. He was banished from his pack and Karan was, by force, separated from her family. Her friend’s death will be a great tragedy for her. The things she learned with him will make her a better person and help her get along with people one day.
A new season brought a new friend. An Aleutian ship came and there was a girl named Tutok. Even though she acted hostile towards her Karan finally finds the company she longed for. Karan had a chance to leave the island but she refused to do it. When Tutok left the feeling of loneliness came back. Karan filled the hole she felt by helping animals. Her attitude towards animals changed completely. She didn’t only see four or tools in them but actual friends.
The last chapter is about Karan’s arrival to the civilized world. After years spent on the island, she decided to give her trust to people. She found out why the ship which took her people all those years ago never came back. That ship never made it to the shore due to a storm and that was the reason why she was left alone.
Generally speaking, this novel is about human’s survival instinct and the ability to survive the obstacles coming out a way. The Native American girl has proven that people can coexist in peace with nature and that, despite a lack of civilization, a person can grow up to be a decent human being. A film was made by this novel and Scott O’Dell received the Hans Christian Andersen award for it.
Place: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Time: 1835 – 1853
The Island of the Blue Dolphins was in the Pacific and it has its own calm tempo of life. A Native American tribe inhabited the island. They were fishermen, hunters, gathered fruits, made tools and weapons from the materials provided to them by nature. Their peace was disturbed when Aleut people arrived to hunt sea otters. When they came the 12 years old Karan and her 6 years younger brother were getting ready for lunch. Her brother Ramo noticed the ship first. Soon the news about the foreign guests spread across the village GHalas-at. The village men went to the shore carrying weapons and they wanted to know what the guests wanted. Captain Orlov, a Russian man, went out of his boat when they reached the shore. Karan’s father was the village chief and he introduced himself with his real name which was Chowig. Karan perceived his act as a bad sign. The inhabitants of the village had to names – one public and one secret. They believed that pronouncing their secret names wasted its magic.
Captain Orlov came to negotiate the terms of hunting and accommodation in their village. Chowig wasn’t too thrilled about his proposal. The last time Russians came here to hunt, it didn’t go well for the tribe. Chowig was suspicious and concerned. He proposed that the pray be divided in a 2:1 ratio since they will be doing all the heavy lifting. Chowig didn’t want to accept it because the sea belonged to their island and they wanted to take pray out of it. He wanted to have an equal ratio. Orlov, despite not liking it, had to agree.
Aleuts stayed there until the end of the summer. Their customs were much different than the tribe’s customs so Chowig advised his people not to come in contact with the foreigners. The tribe had problems with famine until the spring when Karan’s sister accidentally found a lot of tuna. They got the fish into their village and the Aleuts found out about it. They came to the natives to ask them to share the fish with them but Chowig declined their request since there was more mouth to feed in the tribe. The Aleuts were furious and since that moment the relationship between the two sides became tense.
Karan watched how the Aleuts killed the otters and took their fur. The sea was becoming red because of all of the blood. She was sad about it since she liked the animals and their existence was more precious than some coat. The ship was getting filled with otter skin which meant that they will leave soon. Chowig sent two young men to make sure that Orlov will keep his part of the deal. Soon he found out that the Aleuts were packing up their tents and getting ready to leave. Chowig went down with his armed men and after a few minutes of negotiation a confrontation started and it became a massive battle. It seemed as if the tribe men will win but soon they started to retract closer to the cliffs. Aleuts ran away to their boats with Orlov. Karan saw her father’s body and she was sure that he wasn’t supposed to say his name to Orlov because it lost its magic.
After a bloody battle, the village was short of men. They named the new chief and then had to give female tasks to men and vice versa. Some took it hard but they had to adjust to the new situation. Sometimes the men reproached their women about becoming conceited when they took on hunting. The life continued peacefully until one day their new chief came saying he will leave for the East land to find a new place for them to stay. The journey to that land lasted for a few days but they decided to do it anyway. He went in the morning and his people had many questions about his journey.
Their chief was gone for a long time. In the spring a new boat, that looked like it was from the Aleuts, was coming their way. They didn’t know if the boat brought salvation or new sufferings. Since they didn’t know what to expect the tribe members decided to put the necessary into the canoes and leave for Santa Catalina. One of the tribe men checked to see what was happening and he found out that the boat was there to take them away from the island. They started getting ready and so did a storm. They had to come to the ship by boats. Ramo was jumping around when he remembered that he had forgotten his spear. The men were already on board and Karan was looking for her brother. When Karan came to the ship she saw that her brother was missing and she saw him on the shore with his spear.
Despite being asked not to do anything stupid Karan jumped into the sea and went back. She didn’t think about anything except for getting to her brother. They sheltered themselves from the strong wind. When the wind stopped they went to their village. It was completely empty and the dogs ate their food. Ramo stayed positive and thought that it wasn’t bad staying there with his sister. He was brave, had big plans and he wasn’t mature enough to know the responsibilities which came with adulthood. The next morning Ramo went to get the canoes, despite Karan forbidding him to leave the village. Karan came to the village and saw that he was missing. She went to search for him and she found him dead. The feral dogs killed him. Karan decided to avenge him. She hated the pack’s leader in particular. She took her brother’s body to a cave and swore to exterminate all the island dogs.
In order to continue her life, she needed a fresh start. Sometimes, in order to start something new, you have to burn all the bridges with your past. She burned down the village. Karan found her new home and started making weapons and tools. She tried to remember everything her father taught her. After a while, she made a bow and arrow and she learned to use them. Time was going by slow and loneliness was getting bigger every day. Canoes which survived the fire were her escape ticket. She placed everything she had inside of a canoe and went on a journey which didn’t last very long because water started entering the canoe. She paddled back to the shore accompanied by dolphins. She took it as a sign that she wasn’t supposed to leave the island.
Karan needed a better place to live so she picked a spot sheltered from the wind and close to a source of fresh water. The only flaw of her new home was the pack of dogs living near her but she was going to exterminate them anyway.
It was raining for three days. Animals were stealing her food and she had to build a fence around her home. Karan has proven herself to be a good builder. She spent half of winter building her home and in the meantime, she killed two dogs, but still didn’t reach their leader. She used many materials she found in the nature to make dishes and other utensils. When she did everything she wanted, Karan started thinking of ways to exterminate the dogs. She knew that it was a matter of life because if she doesn’t kill them, they will kill her. Karan had to make better spears, sharper arrows and a bigger bow. She improved her hunting skills and it made her feel more confident. She needed a seal’s tooth but didn’t know how to get it since she wasn’t physically capable of fighting with a big animal but she knew that she had to do it.
She observed the seals and saw a young one who was way smaller than the other so she chose him to be her victim. She missed the first time and problems started amongst the seals, but not because of her. Some male seals started fighting. One of them started going after Karan and she hurt her leg running away. Her mistake cost her 5 days of sitting in a cold cave without any water. She survived walking on all fours and carrying her bow to the source of water. The dogs smelled the blood. The cave soon became her other home. Karan felt a special bond with it because of its interior. There were drawings on the walls which indicated that her ancestors lived there. She redecorated the cave to make it prettier and to make it her new home. She placed rocks on the entrance and left a small hole for her to crawl out of.
She found the tooth she needed on a seal’s remains. She worked on it and made two spears. Karan was finally ready to confront her brother’s killers. She was convinced that the pack became conceited thanks to their leader. The feral dogs were on the island for as long as it existed. They would sleep during the day and hunt during the night. She made a plan to get rid of them. Karan climbed to the top of their cave, waited for them to come back, took some branches, lighted them on fire and pushed them into the cave. As the dogs ran out she shot them with her arrows and then the long waited leader came out. He was standing in front of her and she shot him in cold blood. The dog managed to escape and she went after him as a predator. Karan went back to the cave, thinking he would be back, and there she found a puppy. She didn’t have the heart to kill him. Karan approached him carefully because she knew the nature of those dogs. She aimed him but her hand wouldn’t let go of the arrow. Since the dog was injured, he was weak. She took him into her cave and healed him.
She didn’t search for food in days so she had to go. Karan left the dog with some water and she didn’t think she cared for him to survive. Every day she did her job and she left the fence open for the dog to leave but he always waited for her. Soon the tension between the two of them disappeared and they became friends. She named him Rontu which meant “fox eyes”. By giving him a name she gave him a new opportunity and adopted him.
Spring and summer went by and the ship still didn’t appear. Karan watched out for the Aleut’s ship. She even started building a canoe so that she would be prepared to escape if a ship comes. Rontu always followed her around. Soon he learned his own name and understood some words Karan would say to him. Thanks to him her loneliness was smaller. When the canoe was done they took short journeys around the island. They discovered many caves and one of them was near her house. The cave will be great for her to save her canoe. Rontu observed an octopus which swam away when she saw him.
Karan started making a spear of hunting octopuses. She made it like she remembered her father made it. On a beautiful, spring day she went the shore. She knew it was spring because she saw the bird flock. Rontu wasn’t with her this time. That winter the dogs often came by their cave and upset them. Rontu was acting strangely. One day Rontu and the dog’s leader started a fight. Rontu lost the leader’s respect but at least he was alive. Luckily Karan was still there for him. Spring brought new family members into their cave – two small birds. In the meantime, Karan made a new skirt for herself.
Summer came back and she decided to catch an octopus. When she found her pray she confronted it. Karan injured her hands and legs fighting with the octopus. Rontu was also hurt. Inexperience got the best of them this time. The octopus was killed but Karan had no strength to take her home. They never thought about hunting octopuses. Karan’s days continued to be the same. On one of her adventures, she found a cave which was the last place her ancestors lived in. Every day she observed the ocean and hoped a ship won’t come and disturb her peace.
The last time she was getting ready to go around with her canoe she saw a ship. Karan got ready as fast as possible and she got ready to run away. She was on the top of a rock watching people coming to the island. There was a girl amongst them and she found Karan’s hide place. No matter how much Karan tried not to be discovered the girl found her. Karan was suspicious and hostile at first but they found a mutual language – the girl like Karan’s skirt. The girl introduced herself as Tutok. Karan missed human contact and having people around, even if they were enemies.
Her previous experiences helped her decide not to away from the island. She was scared that the Aleut’s will find out she is alive and come to kill her. The girl gave her a necklace and the two of them spend a lot of time hanging out and talking but it didn’t last long because the girl had to leave. Then she shared her real name with her which was the greatest gift of all because it was the gift of trust and friendship.
The island was deserted again. She stood on the rocks, watching her abandoned island, empty sea and she was thinking of Tutok. She remembered all of the moments they spent sunbathing and talking. She thought she heard voices. The hunters left injured otters. Karan put some of them out of their misery and she saved a little otter and called Mon-a-nee. During spring she found a seagull that fell out of his nest. She often thought about Tutok and her sister hoping Mon-a-nee will come back. Mon-a-nee cheered her up with her visit when she brought her baby birds with her. Karan decided to change her name and then she decided never to kill an otter and she became fond of other animals too.
Late in the summer, Rontu died. Karan was deeply hurt because of the lost but nature sent her a new hope. A puppy appeared and Karan was convinced that Rontu was the puppy’s father. She tried to catch him and she named him Rontu-Aru which meant Rontu’s son. She started to miss her sister even more. Sometimes, while she was alone at sea, she would hear voices in the wind.
During the summer nature gave her an unpleasant surprise. There was an earthquake which hit some of the smaller islands and caused tsunamis. Many sea animals died and everything went quiet moments before the disaster repeated again. The waves didn’t cause her much damage but the sea did take all of her tools, weapons, and food away. Losing the canoe hurt her a lot. She took matter into her own hands and decided to build a new one. While she was gathering wood to start a fire she saw a boat. This time it wasn’t Aleut’s. Karan wondered what they wanted and she wasn’t sure if she should run away because it might be a ship the Ghalas-at people sent for her.
Two men came by boats to the shore and saw her fire. They called her but by the time she appeared they were gone. One morning, after two springs, the boat came back. She bathed, drew her unmarried sign, put her skirt and jewelry on. She approached the people and hearing the sound of their voices woke up different feelings inside of her.
They gave her a blue dress on the ship and she had trouble adapting to it. The people came to hunt otter’s and she pretended she didn’t understand their language. When she came to the ship she found out that the ship which took away her family and friends got wrecked in a storm. Karan stood on the deck, saying goodbye to her island. Dolphins accompanied her and Rontu Aru on their new adventure.
Characters: Karan, Ramo, Chowig, Orlov, Ulape, Kimki, Tutok, Rontu, Won-a-nee, Rontu Aru, ship’s crew members
Karan is the main hero of the story and life put her through a lot. She lost her father and brother and she was left alone on the island. Her survival instinct made the best of her surface. Karan showed strong survival will when she was left at the mercy of nature. She was very traditional and kept her tribe’s beliefs alive. Karan was scared to use a bow and arrow because only men were allowed to use it, she respected her tribe’s customs and admired her ancestors. Her customs made problems for her when she tried to make weapons but later on, she did them without any problems because she knew she had to.
In the beginning of the novel she is introduced as a 12 years old girl and we follow her physical and mental growth. Her ability to forgive made Rontu, her sworn enemy, her best friend. They will have many adventures together and learn valuable lessons. The animals she met and saved will become her company. Her comprehension of animals took on a new dimension.
Her previous experiences taught her that she shouldn’t believe stranger but the need for human contact made her uncover her identity to people who came on her island. She also made friends with Tutok. Karan’s perception of time seems strange because she didn’t keep a precise track of time. Karan’s character contains the tradition of a world far from our reach, true survival instinct and a spirit of a long lost time.
Ramo was a six years old Karan’s baby brother. He was very tiny for her age but also cheerful and witty. He was playful and the smallest detail would catch his eye. His perception of the sea was very interesting because he described it as a blue stone. He often made his sister worry because he would wonder off without fear. He stayed on the island because he wasn’t careful enough and his sister had to go an get him. When they stayed alone at the island he decided to be the village chief. Karan supported him even though she found it a bit funny. The boy wasn’t sorry for staying on the island with his sister because he loved her. One day, while Karan was doing her everyday choirs, he went on an adventure and never came back. The feral dogs slaughtered him. His death will make Karan kill all of the feral dogs and avenge her brother.
Chowig was the chief of Ghalas-at village and Karan’s father. He trusted the Russians too much and they took advantage of it. He revealed his true name to captain Orlov and, according to tribe’s custom, the name lost it magic when it was pronounced. He was an experienced and wise man who often advised his people not to talk to the Russians. He tried to make an honest deal with them in a peaceful manner but the Russians provoked him and they ended up in a battle. Chowig died defending his village and left three kids behind. Karan thought that he died because he revealed his name.
Captain Orlov was an unscrupulous Russian who tried trick Chowig and the rest of the village. He knew that his ancestor made problems while hunting for otters and he tried to convince Chowig that this time will be different but he was actually coming up with a plan to trick him and leave with all of the pray. Orlov is a true description of a colonialist trying to acquire everything by force. Instead of negotiating the terms peacefully with Chowig he sent others to do his dirty work. In the end he left irreparable damage on the island.
Scott O’Dell Biography
Scott O’Dell is an American writer who wrote mostly for young people, but he also wrote three novels for adults and also a few non-fiction books. O’Dell is born in 1898 in Los Angeles, USA. His first name is Gabriel Scott but it was incorrectly published in his first published book, so he kept the name, Scott O’Dell. O’Dell grew up in California, and went to Occidental College, then at the University of Wisconson, and after that in Stanford, and finally in the University of Rome. He works as a cameraman and technical director. He was also a book review editor. In the WWII he served in Air Force.
O’Dell started his writing as an article writer. Then he started to write fictional and non-fictional books for adults. Finally, in the late 50s, he started to write children’s books. He mostly wrote novels for youth, placed in historical California or Mexico. His most known children’s books are Island of the Blue Dolphins, Zia, The Amethyst Ring, The King’s Fifth, The Black Pearl, and others.
O’Dell won Andersen’s prize in 1972. for his literary work and contribution in child’s literature. His most famous novel is
Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is established in 1981. And his novel Island of the Blue Dolphins is adapt as a movie in 1964.
O’Dell died in 1989.