Study Guide Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

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Karana is not only the major character of the story; she is nearly the only human character in the story. At the age of twelve, she finds herself alone on the island where she was born. Mostly she interacts with the animals on the island. She spends much time responding to what occurs in nature. Over time, her attitude toward animals changes.


The author describes the adventures that Karana experiences, the arrival of the Aleuts and Russians, the massacre endured by her tribe, the departure of the tribe in a ship that was sent to rescue them, the expectation that those who leave her and her brother on the island will return for them, the death of her brother by dogs, her trip in a canoe which ends when she realizes that the canoe is leaking too badly to make the journey, her acceptance of the fact that she will be on the island indefinitely, her building of a permanent shelter, her friendship with the leader of the wild dogs, the return of the Aleuts, her friendship with an Aleut girl, an earthquake and tsunami, the arrival of a ship and its immediate departure, the return of the ship several years later and her rescue.

Threaded throughout the story, the author tells us about a different kind of adventure, Karana's relationship with the animals on the island. At first she is willing to kill animals when killing them gives her something useful such as skins, feathers, teeth. Later, she views animals as friends, not something to be killed, neither if they are useful nor if they are not obviously useful.


Respect for all life

Her life on the island leads Karana to the conclusion that all animals are important. Those that are our friends are surely important. Those that are useful are important. But, also those that are of no obvious use are important. This important theme was in the authorís mind before he began to write this book. At that time he was angry with huntersí disrespect for life. Writing this book was one way that he dealt with this anger.

Forgive enemies

Karana displayed an ability to forgive her enemies. She showed this when she made friends with Rontu, the former leader of the wild dogs who had killed Ramo, her brother. She also showed this ability when she allowed herself to become friends with Tutok. Tutokís people had killed her people. For some, this would be a powerful reason to hate another. Perhaps she understood that Tutok was powerless to stop the slaughter of her tribe. In the case of Tutok, this was possibly one reason to ignore the past. But, in the case of Rontu, Rontu had actually led the pack and it would be more difficult to excuse him. But, Karana overlooked the past anyway.

Adapt to the situation

Karana was able to adjust to whatever life on the island brought. She adapted to life without her mother before the beginning of the story. Then she adapted to losing her father and, soon afterward, her sister and brother. She adjusted to doing everything that needed to be done. She accepted the fact that there were some things, not many, which she could not do. Karanaís approach to living was the approach of a survivor.

Live and let live

This is similar to having respect for all life. If Karana did not understand an animal, she did not automatically consider it useless and without value.


The story is told as a narrative. We know only what Karana knows. We see things the way that they appear to Karana. This limits to a degree what we know about the situations described. It also gives us a clear picture of what causes Karana's attitudes to change because we know her version of what happens to her and her environment.


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