Sarah Bishop Essay - Critical Context

Odell Gabriel Scott

Critical Context

Like Sarah Bishop, most of Scott O’Dell’s work is historical fiction, so it comes as no surprise that an award for a work of this genre set in the New World is given in his honor: the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. O’Dell wrote other novels with strong, female characters such as Sarah. Karana, the central character of Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960), which won the Newbery Medal, lives alone on an island off the coast of California. She is finally rescued by Spanish priests after eighteen years, but one wonders whether Karana will find as much peace and happiness at the mission—and within civilization—as she did on her island home, a question that could be asked of Sarah as well. The question for Karana is answered in the sequel, Zia (1977), which reveals her last days as witnessed through the eyes of her niece.

Bright Morning is a similarly strong female character in O’Dell’s Newbery Honor Book Sing Down the Moon (1970). In a memorable story that reflects the dignity of the Navajo people, Bright Morning convinces her wounded fiancé to escape from a U.S. fort after their imprisonment there along the “Long Walk,” the horrific three hundred-mile forced march of the Navajo from their canyon homes to Fort Sumner. Like Sarah, they find refuge in a cave in their familiar homeland and, once there, begin a new life with their newborn son, their spirits healed. Other Newbery Honor Books by O’Dell are The King’s Fifth (1966) and The Black Pearl (1987).