Dogsong is a novel of survival that can be read on many levels and by a wide range of age groups. On one level, Paulsen presents an adventure story in which Russel confronts storms, severe cold, and near starvation, as well as a huge polar bear that he must kill for food to keep both himself and his dogs alive. Surviving under these difficult circumstances, Russel gains a sense of accomplishment and feeling of competency that he might not have been able to achieve if he had remained in his home settlement in the relative comfort provided by his father. By the time that his mentor dies, Russel is no longer in need of instruction; the old ways have become sufficiently ingrained in him that Russel is able to survive on his own.
During the course of the story, Paulsen presents Inuit customs and beliefs in a sympathetic fashion. He allows readers to grow in understanding and acceptance of these customs and beliefs at the same time that Russel does. At the beginning of the novel, Russel feels vaguely dissatisfied with the snowmobiles and television sets that have widely been adopted by the people of his settlement, although he cannot put into words what makes him uneasy about these components of his lifestyle. With Oogruk as his mentor, Russel learns as much as the old man can remember of the old ways.
At first, Russel feels uncomfortable and almost silly while practicing some of the Inuit customs, such as placing food in the mouth of the animals that he has killed in gratitude for the food that they will provide. At the same time, however, he feels a...
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