Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.

Based on a true story, Scott O’Dell’s children’s novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) won the Newbery Medal in 1961.

The narrator, Karana, known as Won-a-pa-lei, which means The Girl with the Long Black Hair, begins by recounting the day the Aleuts and the Russians came to her home, Ghalas-at, which the Aleuts call The Island of the Blue Dolphins. Karana and her brother, Ramo, see the ship arrive. Her father, Chief Chowig, meets the Russian Captain Orlov, and Karana is surprised that her father gives the Russian his secret name instead of his common name. Karan’s people are leery of the Aleuts because of prior strife between the two tribes, but Chowig negotiates a deal with Orlov allowing the Aleuts to hunt on the island in exchange for a large payment in valuable objects.

For some days, the Aleuts live on one end of the island, hunting, and an uneasy truce is observed. When the Aleuts are finished, Chowig demands payment, but the Aleuts and Orlov swindle him. A battle breaks out, but the Russians and Aleuts are better armed and slaughter many of the island men, including Chowig.

A new chief is chosen, Kimki. The winter that follows is grim; with so many men dead, survival is difficult. When the warmer weather arrives, Kimki, deciding they can no longer survive on the island, sails off to find a new land for his people. Sometime later, a large boat arrives with white missionaries, who announce that Kimki has sent them to collect the tribe and transport them to their new home. The weather is bad and the missionaries are eager to leave, causing confusion and chaos as everyone rushes to board the boat. Ramo forgets his hunting spear and runs off to get it. Karana tries to convince the missionaries to wait for him, but they cast off; Karana dives into the ocean, swimming to shore rather than abandon her brother.

Alone on the island, Ramo and Karana work to survive in the abandoned village. Although they are alone, they adhere to the traditional gender roles of their tribe. They believe that once their absence is noted, Kimki will send another boat to collect them. Confident in his abilities, Ramo roams the island alone. One morning, Karana wakes up and Ramo is nowhere to be found. She goes searching for him and finds his dead body; he has been attacked and killed by a pack of wild dogs.

Karana grieves and sets fire to the village. Deciding to no longer honor the traditions of her tribe, she begins making weapons and tools for hunting, normally forbidden to women. Methodically, she pursues revenge against the dogs, setting a fire to force them out of their cave and shooting the pack leader with an arrow. She kills several other dogs. The pack leader escapes despite his injury.

While hunting a few days later, Karana finds the lead dog, still alive but badly injured by her arrow. She considers killing it, but something about the dog moves her to pity. She brings him back with her and begins nursing him. Slowly, Karana and the dog bond as she heals him; she names him Rontu. When the wild dogs attack her, Rontu defends her, proving his allegiance.

Karana fears the return of the Aleuts, so she seeds the island with provisions and sets up a cave with food, water, and weapons against their return. One day, she sees an Aleut ship and flees to her cave, hiding while the other tribe hunts on the island. She only comes out at night; on one of her forays, she sees Tutok, a girl about her own age. The two girls are frightened and suspicious, but curious. Slowly, they become friends. Rontu approves of Tutok. Tutok keeps Karana’s secret, and when the Aleuts leave, she goes with them. Karana grieves the loss of her only friend.

Using whalebones for the structure, Karana builds a house, putting a lot of effort into making it nice. She and Rontu hunt and play together. She makes clothing from feathers and tames several other animals, including some of the colorful birds. After several years, Ronyu passes away. Karana goes back to the cave of the wild dogs and claims one of Rontu’s puppies, naming him Rontu-Aru, “Son of Rontu.”

One day, Karana sees white sails on the horizon and, lonely, decides the time has come to be with people again. She dresses in her finest clothing and waits on the beach with Rontu-Aru. The sailors are amazed, but kind to Karana, although, disapproving of her clothing, they make her a dress, which she dislikes but wears because she wishes to fit into her new life. She learns that the boat carrying her people sank shortly after leaving, killing everyone. As they sail away, Karana sits with Rontu-Aru and some of her birds, watching her home slowly disappear.