Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960), William Steig’s Abel’s Island takes on the challenges of the survival story. The protagonist’s isolation throughout most of the novel prevents reliance on the standard narrative building blocks of dialogue and character interaction. Instead, Steig makes his mouse hero’s solitary musings and his conflicts both with nature and himself the central focus.

One afternoon in August, 1907, newlyweds Abel and Amanda leave their comfortable home in Mossville for a picnic outing. When a violent storm arises, they find shelter in a cave until Abel recklessly pursues Amanda’s windblown scarf. Buffeted by torrential rains, Abel clutches desperately at a rusty nail in a board until this makeshift raft comes to rest in the branches of a birch tree on a small river island.

At first, Abel believes his family will mount a search party to rescue him. When he realizes that he must save himself, he makes many ingenious but unsuccessful attempts at escape: adapting a rudder to his nail-and-board boat, engineering another boat of driftwood and bark, lashing together twigs to make a catamaran, flinging a woven grass rope across the river with his suspenders as a slingshot, and building a bridge of stepping stones.

By September, Abel accepts that he is an inhabitant of the island and takes pride in providing for his needs. He experiments...

(The entire section is 608 words.)