Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Foreignness and 'the Other'

By Scott O'Dell

Foreignness and 'the Other'

His voice echoed against the rock walls of the cove. The words were strange, unlike any I had ever heard. Slowly he spoke in our tongue.

"I come in peace and wish to parley," he said to the men on the shore. (1.29-30)

What is Karana's first impression the Russians? Are Captain Orlov's words true?

"The Aleuts come from a country far to the north, he said. "Their ways are not ours nor is their language. They have come to take otter and to give us our share in many goods which they have and which we can use. In this way shall we profit. But we shall not profit if we try to befriend them. They are people who do not understand friendship" (2.7)

The islanders see the Aleuts as different and foreign. Both cultures think the other is not worth knowing. 

I had never seen this dog before the Aleuts came and no one else had, so he must have come with them and been left behind when they sailed away. He was a much larger dog than any of ours, which besides have short hair and brown eyes. I was sure the he was an Aleut dog. (15.3)

The leader of the dog pack is not a native of the island; rather, he is foreign to it. How do the two become friends?

The white men's ship did not return that spring or in the summer. But every day, whether I was on the headland or gathering shellfish on the rocks or working on my canoe, I watched for it. I also watched for the red ship of the Aleuts. (16.1)

What's the difference between the white men and the Aleuts?

She was graceful and the skirt flowed around her like water, but I hated the Aleuts and took it from her.

"<em>Wintscha,"</em> she said.

I had not heard words spoken for so long that they sounded strange to me, yet they were good to hear, even though it was an enemy who spoke them. (21.31-32)

Karana is scared of the girl and holds a grudge against her since it was her people who killed Karana's father. How does she get over these feelings and become friends with the girl?

She touched the necklace, giving the word for it, and I gave mine. We pointed out other things – the spring, the cave, a gull flying, the sun and the sky, Rontu asleep – trading the names for them and laughing because they were so different. We sat there on the rock until the sun was in the west and played this game. Then Tutok rose and made a gesture of farewell. (22.10)

Karana and the Aleut girl become friends by learning each other's language. This totally disproves Karana's father's opinion that the Aleuts don't understand friendship.

I came to the mound where my ancestors had sometimes camped in the summer. I thought of them and of the happy times spent in my house on the headland, of my canoe lying unfinished beside the trail. I thought of many things, but stronger was the wish to be where people lived, to hear their voices and their laughter. (28.19)

Karana's loneliness gets the best of her. She wants to leave the island to be with people again. What's her view of the "other" here? Does she choose their culture over her own?

I shook my head and smiled at him. He spoke again, slowly this time, and though his words sounded the same as before and meant nothing to me, they now seemed sweet. They were the sound of a human voice. There is no sound like this in all the world. (29.12)

Here, we see that Karana values human connection and companionship, regardless of the culture.

There were many gestures before we left, though the two men spoke among themselves. They like my necklace, the cape, and the cormorant skirt that shone in the sun. But when we got to the beach, where their camp was, the first thing the men who spoke the most did was to tell the other men to make me a dress. (29.15)

Why do the men insist on making Karana a dress? How do you think they view her?

The dress reached from my throat to my feet and I did not like it, either the color of it or the way it scratched it was also hot. But I smiled and put my cormorant skirt away in one of the baskets to wear when I got across the sea, sometime when the men were not around. (29.19)

How do the white men view Karana? Do you think she'll be able to wear her cormorant skirt across the ocean?