Island of the Blue Dolphins – Literature – Themes

Faith in oneself enables surviving alone

Never losing faith in herself while relying on the knowledge of her tribe is the strategy Karana uses to survive alone on the island.

When the ship with Karana´s tribe leaves due to an upcoming storm and she remains on the island with her little brother Ramo, her life suddenly takes an unexpected turn. With the menwho have always gone fishing and build shelters missing, and the women, who have always gathered roots and abalones missing as well, she and her younger brother Ramo are obliged to fend for themselves. Shortly after the death of her brother, Karana is forced to take over tasks only the male members of the tribe of Ghalas-at have been allowed to perform. She makes her own weapons, builds a new house as well as a canoe and goes fishing. Additionally, she does not only collect abalones and roots for food but also creates her own clothing and jewelrywith cormorant feathers and bones. She would not be able so survive without trust in her skills.

Remembering techniques used by the people in her tribe, she knows how to fix a leaking canoe with fibers, how to make weapons and how to protect herself and the collected food from wild animals by making a fire and building a fence. The rules of the tribe have always forbidden women to make weapons because of the fear of devastating consequences: “Or would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rock? […] Would the weapons break in my hands at the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said?(O`Dell 52) Despite these possible risks, she dares to build her own weapons.

Beyond that, the knowledge about the position of the sun and the stars helps her to orientate herself in the environment. Therefore, she knows when it is time to turn back from fishing before dusk or to paddle into the right direction even at night, when she tries to leave the island once. She always relies on her knowledge and skills.

Friendship helps to ease feelings of loneliness.

Besides faith in oneself, friendship is a major theme in this book, as it helps to bear the loneliness on the island.

The absence of humans forces Karana to develop a strong kinship with a variety of animals. Birds, dolphins, sea elephants, fish and sea otters enrich her day and give her the sense of not being alone. She only kills animals if necessary – to appease her hunger or to defend herself from attacking dogs. This is how she has been raised by her family – to live in harmony with every living creature on the island. When her little brother is killed by a pack of wild dogs, she decides to dispatch them, but cannot put the leader of the pack to death. With great aptitude and forgiveness Karana tames the dog and gives him the name Rontu. From then on, he hovers over Karana and becomes not only her bodyguard but also her best friend.

Despite the fact, that no people live on the island except Karana, a friendship between her and another girl develops when the Aleuts come to the island again to hunt sea otters. First sceptical, but later sharing food with that girl namely Tutok, Karana enjoys her company until Tutok leaves with the Aleuts. Karana expresses her close friendship by creating a circlet for Tutok´s hair consisting of abalone shells that takes her five nights to complete. Without Tutok, Karana feels deep reclusion and wishes to talk to her once again. However, the strong communion to all creatures on the island helps her to overcome that heavy sense of loneliness again.