Scott O'Dell Carolyn T. Kingston - Essay

Carolyn T. Kingston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Yearling [by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings] and It's Like This, Cat [by Emily Neville] illustrate what can happen to a hero or heroine separated from normal companionship. These children use love for an animal to fill the void in their lives…. All three stories show that the protagonist gains strength to cope…. (p. 145)

These stories are among the most beautiful compositions available for children because the emotion of love described has the shimmering quality of spirituality, purified of much of the selfishness that is so great a part of what is commonly called love. The beauty of the motivating thought is communicated through the phrasing and construction of each story to such an extent that one must sample the atmospheres created by the authors to appreciate it. Like a sunset, the experience contained in these books is dulled rather than enhanced by description. The protagonists, young as they are, find love more important than life. The welfare of another being is more essential than is their own in a rare essence of emotion. The loss of the object of such a love is carved from the tragic sense of life; the fact of its existence is the balance inherent in this love. (p. 146)

Although [Island of the Blue Dolphins] is based in fact, it is the author's beautiful transcription of it that makes it tragedy. Rich in metaphor, so appropriate in the Indian manner of speech, Karana's story unfolds. Scott O'Dell paints a primitive landscape and an empty horizon, seemingly always waiting for a ship to fill it, but he also paints the towering character of Karana as it progressively grows with each moment of tragedy. As the outgoing tide denudes a beach, the Indian girl's life is swept clean of companionship, not once but several times, yet her spirit does not crumple; rather, it expands under the pounding, emerging bright and polished like a rock smoothed by the sea. Her threatening universe remains the same, ready to explode with forces of destruction. It is within herself that the Indian girl finds peace. (p. 148)

Carolyn T. Kingston, "The Tragic Moment: Loss," in her The Tragic Mode in Children's Literature, New York: Teachers College Press, 1974, pp. 124-67.∗