Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary

Instructor: Vivian Davis

Vivian has a PhD in English literature.

This lesson provides a brief summary of 'Island of the Blue Dolphins,' a young-adult novel written by Scott O'Dell. After a brief overview, we will discuss the novel's beginning, major conflicts, and thrilling conclusion.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a desert island story with a twist. Our heroine isn't a gun-toting adventurer; she's a young girl named Karana (or Won-a-pa-lei, 'The Girl with the Long Black Hair') who gets left behind when her tribe flees her small island home. This action-packed book chronicles her struggle to survive as she comes face-to-face with the island's wild animals, violent Aleutian hunters, and her own fear and loneliness.

One of the cool things about Karana is that even though she's a fictional character, her story is based on the real-life tale of Juana Maria, a nineteenth-century woman popularly known as the 'Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.' Much like Karana, the Lone Woman was left behind by her tribe when they were evacuated from their island home. Though she was eventually rescued by a fur trapper, the Lone Woman survived on her own for nearly two decades!

How It Starts

As the story opens, we meet our protagonist, Karana, who lives a happy life on her island home with her father (the tribe's leader), her sister, and her little brother Ramo. However, there's a storm brewing. The villagers have been arguing with a group of hunters who have just arrived on the island. The men are called the Aleuts, and they're led by a Russian named Orlov. The hunters are up in arms over who has the right to hunt the island's otters. The quarrel between the Aleuts and the native islanders eventually turns into a bloody battle, and when the smoke clears, many--including Karana's father--have been killed.

Unable to defend themselves against further attacks, the survivors consider leaving their island village. One of the elders sets out for the mainland to look for help; he eventually sends a large ship back to evacuate everyone. During the exodus, however, Ramo, Karana's little brother, gets left behind. Seeing her brother stranded, Karana jumps off of the ship and swims ashore. As the tribe sails away, Karana and Ramo realize they must survive alone until the ship returns.

Major Conflicts

Once the children are left on the island, the conflicts start mounting. Let's take a look:

First, and most importantly, Ramo is killed by a group of wild dogs. For Karana, the loss is devastating, and she vows to avenge her brother's death. Her desire to hunt down the dog pack that killed Ramo is the driving conflict in the book's first half.

Before Karina can get her revenge, however, she must go on a journey. Realizing she is vulnerable, Karana decides to make a bow and arrow, something women in her tribe are not supposed to do. She then tries unsuccessfully to leave the island in a leaky canoe. Unable to escape, she decides to build a new home on a different part of the island. Finally, Karana procures the tusk of a male bull seal for a new spear, but she is severely wounded in the process. She recovers in a cave that will become a second home for her.

Time passes and Karana finds that she's ready to confront the dogs who killed her brother. In a dramatic climax, Karana takes on the leader using a bigger bow and the spear she made with the seal tusk. Karana fatally wounds the leader and gains her revenge. However, being the kind-hearted person she is, Karana doesn't let the animal die. Instead she takes pity on him and treats his wounds. Believe it or not, the two eventually become friends, and she names the dog Rontu.

The Resolution

After abandoning her quest for revenge, a different conflict motivates Karana. The last half of the novel focuses on Karana's survival, the return of the Aleuts, and Karana's quest to live in harmony with the island's animals.

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