The Island of the Blue Dolphins focuses on a group of people living on an isolated island off the coast of California. The story is based on the life of a real woman who lived alone on a California island until 1853. During this time period, it would have been more difficult to find and map this tiny island. This causes the characters in The Island of the Blue Dolphins to be cut off from modern advances and technology. For example, they refer to the Russians' ship as a "giant canoe" because they are unaware of the correct term for it.
The island's inhabitants also rely on hunter-gatherer roles, in which men hunt and women take over more domestic duties. This means that when Karana is left alone on the island in the story, she has to take over the more "male-oriented" responsibilities.