Island of the Blue Dolphins – Literature – Characters

The main character in this story is Karana, an Indian girl. She has been living on the Island of the Blue Dolphins with her tribe of Ghalas-at. She is raised as a person of virtue, obeying the rules of the tribe. Once her people leave the island, a significant internal change takes place. Fending for herself, she grows with the duties and responsibilities from day to day. Necessity forces her to develop a creative and independent personality. She provides food for herself and tries to survive from day to day on the island alone by constantly weighing the risks and hazards she might encounter. Therefore, she can be described as a tough girl with a great power of endurance. She is also very innovative as she creates her own clothing and jewelry with cormorant feathers and fixes the leaking canoe with yucca fibers. Her great aptitude in handling animals enables her to become friends with them, which highly eases her sense of loneliness. Especially the relationship with the leader of the wild dogs, Rontu, is important for her.

Ramo is the little brother of Karana. At the beginning of the story he is six years old, which is half of Karana´s age. According to Karana, he is small, but “quick as a cricket” and can also be “foolish as a cricket when he is excited.” Furthermore, he is very alert and notices everything, like for example the approaching ship, which Karana doesn´t want him to spot. He has a close relationship to his older sister and wants to overtake the tasks a man has to fulfill, even though he is just a little boy. As a male and son of the dead chief, he feels responsible to provide for them, as it is prescribed by the tribe. Ramo plays an important role in Karana´s life. For him she is willing to leave her tribe, jumps from the ship heading towards the mainland and swims back to the island where Ramo was. When she reaches him, she thinks: The only thing that made me angry was that my beautiful skirt of yucca fibers, which I had worked on so long and carefully, was ruined.” (O´Dell 38) With this being her only issue, while her tribe is leaving, her enormously strong connection to her little brother is reflected. She prefers a life rather without her tribe than without Ramo and would always care for him.

The tribe of Ghalas-at
The tribe of Ghalas-at can be described as traditional and skilled in creating weapons and hunting. Every member of the tribe has its own duties to fulfill. Women gather roots and abalones, cook meals and sew clothes. Men hunt, build shelter and create weapons, which is forbidden for women. Among the people in the village exists a strong solidarity. They are led by a chief, who represents them gives instructions. Moreover, people of Ghalas-at are raised to treat every living creature with respect, so they only kill animals for their own needs to survive. The tribe strongly believes in their rituals and follows their rules. Furthermore, they try to avoid conflicts with foreigners, which is why they deal justly in the upcoming conflict with the Aleuts.

With first being the leader of the pack of wild dogs, who has killed Ramo, but later tamed and taken away by Karana shows that he is submissive and obeys Karana. She mends his wounds and looks after him, which is answered with great loyalty and reliability.
Although an animal, Rontu is attributed human characteristics in this story. With becoming Karana´s best friend, she talks to him and teaches him words like he would be a human: “He had learned his name quickly and many words that meant something to him. Zalwit, for example, which is our word for pelican, and naip, which means fish. I talked to him often, using these words and others and many that he did not understand, just as though I were talking to one of my people.” (O´Dell 97)
Although Karana knows that Rontu can´t answer her questions with words, he somehow communicates with her using body language: “Rontu would look up at me just the same, though he understood none of the words, acting as if he did.” (O´Dell 97) Therefore, Rontu is contributing to Karana´s happiness and eases her sense of loneliness: “I did not know how lonely I had been until I had Rontu to talk to.” (O`Dell 97)
Furthermore, he has a protective instinct as he never loses track of Karana and guards over her while she sleeps.