Island of the Blue Dolphins Themes
by Scott O'Dell

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Themes

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The main themes of Island of the Blue Dolphins are those naturally associated with the "survival story" or "castaway story." The narrative depicts Karana's mental and emotional reactions to her predicament: initially, the sense of loss — the loss of loved ones, of the security of social structure, of reliable sources of sustenance — and then the steps through which Karana achieves a growing sense of self-reliance, finds ways to replace her missing friends, and acquires a degree of order and community. The need for some kind of community, for relationship, leads the girl to form a "family," by rescuing and taming wild creatures: an orphaned otter, two birds, and the wild dog that she initially sought to destroy in revenge for its pack having killed her brother. They all live reasonably well together.

The theme of community is related to her growing aversion to unnecessary killing, as when 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 when she decides not to shoot an arrow at a sea lion in order to acquire ivory needed for implements. She waits until a pair of battling male sea lions provide her with a dead animal — in the natural order of things. These decisions culminate in her refraining from killing the enemy Aleut girl. Even though Karana is especially afraid of the girl, who might betray her to the other Aleuts, she withholds her weapons, and a fruitful friendship ensues. These themes are interrelated when it turns out that the dog formerly belonged to the Aleut girl and was left behind after a hunting trip years earlier. So in both...

(The entire section is 420 words.)