Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Book Summary and Review) – Minute Book Report

This is a story about a girl named Karana
who lives on the Island of the Blue Dolphins in the Pacific. Her village, Ghalas-at, lives
in peace and harmony, hunting and gathering in a tribal society. One day, the island is visited by the Aleuts,
a crew of Russian fur traders. Karana’s father, the chief of the island, makes an agreement
with the Aleuts that they can stay on the island if they split the harvest of otter
furs. However, when it comes time for the Aleuts to pay, they refuse and a fight ensues,
leaving many of the Ghalas-at men dead, including Karana’s father. After a new chief is appointed, the people
on the island prepare for a mass exodus in the event that the Aleuts come back by building
canoes and collecting supplies. Soon, another ship appears in the distance,
but it is not the Aleuts. These men want to take the Ghalas-at away and so they bring
them on their ship. As they are sailing away, Karana sees that
her brother is still on the island and swims back to be with him. The two siblings are
still hopeful that the ship will return to get them. Unfortunately, Karana’s brother dies to a
pack of wild dogs on the island. Alone on the island, Karana begins constructing shelter
and weapons, a spear and bow and arrows, to defend herself against the wild dogs. She
eventually captures one of the dogs, Rontu, and keeps him as her pet. She also becomes more and more proficient
at hunting and gathering. She travels to new parts of the island and hunts for giant squid. Many years pass until she is visited by another
ship. However, this ship is different because there is a girl amongst the crew. The girl
and Karana meet and become friends, even trading gifts. However, the ship eventually leaves
and Karana is again alone. Despite Rontu dying of old age, Karana finds
another dog and continues her routine of checking for a ship on the horizon. In the end, a ship of missionaries rescues
her, telling her that her people had died in a shipwreck all those years ago. As with most desert island stories, this story
draws out the real connection between humans and nature. Karana comes to know and identify
patterns with different animals and plants around the island that provide her food. A
rhythm harmonizes where all parts of the environment, producers and consumers, synergize together. Readers also get a glimpse of Western Expansion
from the point of view of the people being taken over, or “The Others”. As it’s been
said, History is told by the winners, but in this case, it’s told from the losers. And this relates to how motives play an important
role in cultural understanding and sensitivity, particularly as it deals with language. Through the Aleuts, readers see a people who
are selfish and greedy. Their solution to the problem of language is to fight and run. However, the little girl, whose motives are
friendly, handles the language barrier in a different way. She befriends Karana by offering
gifts and friendship. And it’s here that we get an insight into how important motives
are in interaction with others. This story also highlights the power that
women have if given the opportunity. In the Ghalas-at society, women are not allowed to
construct weapons and hunt. This ultimately hurts Karana when she is forced to live by
herself, but fortunately for her, she is given enough time to experiment and craft the tools
she needs to survive. Karana’s survival creates a significant benchmark
for women in that they are highly capable of taking on the roles that are predominantly
filled by men. And soon she discovers, in order to survive, she cannot view jobs and
tasks through gender-specific lenses. She has to do what she has to do and so those
tasks become gender-neutral. And so this story isn’t just a call for gender
equality, but a celebration of individuals, of either gender, who can rise to the occasion
when thrown against nature.


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