Themes and Characters
Karana, the main character of the story, exhibits extraordinary courage and resourcefulness during her years alone on the island. The characters who make up her family appear only in the story's beginning and are presented with no real depth: her father, Chowig, is the dignified, wise chief of the village; her older sister, Ulape, is intelligent, but more flirtatious than Karana; her brother, Ramo, is an endearing mixture of pride, ingenuity, and mischief.
The narrative focuses on Karana's mental and emotional reactions to her predicament. Initially, she experiences a sense of loss—the loss of loved ones, of the security of a social structure, of reliable sources of sustenance. Through her ordeal, Karana gradually achieves a sense of self-reliance and acquires a degree of order. The need for some kind of community leads the girl to form a "family," by rescuing and taming wild creatures: an orphaned otter, two birds, and, most significantly, the wild dog that she initially sought to destroy in revenge for its pack having killed her brother. She names the dog Rontu, and he becomes her friend and protector.
Karana's growing aversion to unnecessary killing develops the theme of community. She chooses to rescue and domesticate the otter—a gesture of protest against the Aleuts and Russians who come from the north to massacre the otters for their fur—and decides not to shoot an arrow at a sea lion that could provide her with ivory needed for...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
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There is only one character for most of the story in Island of the Blue Dolphins, the fourteen-year-old (at the beginning) Karana; readers see, hear, and react entirely through her. Through her eyes they see her father, chief of the tribe, killed by the invading Aleuts from the north; readers share in her decision to jump off the ship that comes to evacuate the tribe because her younger brother was accidentally left on the island; she soon loses her brother to wild dogs and is thenceforth entirely alone, except for the brief encounter, months later, with the Aleut girl. Karana has many adventures as she, Crusoe-like, creates a home for herself, and makes some hunting weapons. This she must do from the memory of having watched the men, as tribal rules forbade the making of weapons by women. Slowly, through her experiences, thoughts, and feelings, one sees Karana change from a child to a woman. She develops attitudes and has emotions that often have to be inferred or perceived through her understated manner of expression — emotions for which she has no words but which one can nevertheless understand. For example, she does not try to explain to herself why she does not kill the wild dog, when she had gone to such trouble to track him down and wound him. But she does not have to explain it. This is O'Dell's mode of characterization: a minimum of explicit statement or explanation; rather, a few carefully selected words and images that convey meaning by strong suggestion — and the reader, as O'Dell says, can do the rest. It is a technique which seems well suited to portraying his taciturn and stoic young Indian heroines.
O'Dell's books for children are almost all first-person narratives, with the young protagonist telling the story (only two later books have adults as narrators). O'Dell has...
(The entire section is 739 words.)