Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


Red, red, red. It's everywhere in this novel. It's on the sails of the Aleuts' ships, it's on the shore when the sea elephants are duking it out, and it's in the waves when the two giant tidal waves crash against each other. But what does it mean?

Well, we tend to associate red with violence (think blood), warning (stop lights, anyone?), and danger (ever heard of a red flag?). This novel is no different – whenever we see the color red in the narration, we can be sure that conflict is about arise. We should also note that since red occurs naturally in nature in the book, this suggests that conflict is part of the natural order of things.


The devilfish is one of the Karana's great adversaries in the book, even though she doesn't beat him in the way that she wanted to. The devilfish supposedly have the sweetest meat in the ocean, but Karana never gets to taste the giant devilfish, no matter how hard she tries at first.

What does she learn from her interaction with the creature? Let's take a look:

Rontu had a gash on his nose from the giant's beak, and I had many cuts and bruises. I saw two more giant devilfish along the reef that summer, but I did not try to spear them. (19.39)

Karana's pursuit of the giant devilfish hits a dead end: she kills the fish, but then she can't carry his body from the shore. She and Rontu are left wounded. This shows that big game hunting is probably not the best thing to do with your time and can be harmful.

Tidal Waves

Two giant tidal waves hit the island after the earthquake (we'd probably call these tsunamis), and almost drag Karana into the ocean. Their presence reminds us that nature is sometimes violent:

I stood facing the rock, with my feet on a narrow ledge and one hand thrust deep into a crack. Over my shoulder I could see the wave coming. It did not come fast, for the other wave was still running out. For a while I thought that it would not come at all because the two suddenly met beyond the sandpit. The first wave was trying to reach the sea and the second one was struggling toward the shore.

Like two giants they crashed against each other. They rose high in the air, bending first one way and then the other. There was a roar as if great spears were breaking in battle, and in the red light of the sun the spray that flew around them looked like blood. (27.11-27.12)

Although Karana makes friends with the animals, she realizes that nature is something that can't really be controlled. This is very different from her father's view and from the view of the Aleuts. Here, the natural world threatens her life as the giant waves break on the shore. Notice how the waves are described as battling men.

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