Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Gender

By Scott O'Dell

Gender

My sister Ulape, who was two years older than I, gathered the most curious news of all. She swore that there was an Aleut girl among the hunters.

"She is dressed in skins just like the men," Ulape said.

"But she wears a fur cap and under the cap she has thick hair that falls to her waist."

No one believed Ulape. Everyone laughed at the idea that hunters would bother to bring their wives with them. (2.11-13)

How are the roles of women different among the Aleuts? Why do the islanders not believe Ulape?

When night came and the women had carried back to the village those who had died on the beach of Coral Cove, there remained only fifteen. Of these, seven were old men.

There was no woman who had not lost a father or a husband, a brother or a son. (5.1-2)

Once the men are killed, there are more women than men on the island. What's the result?

"Most of those who snared fowl and found fish in the deep water and built canoes are gone. The women, who were never asked to do more than stay at home, cook food, and make clothing, now must take the place of men and face the dangers which abound beyond the village." (5.6)

Roles are reversed after so many men are killed by the Aleuts. The women must take the place of the men.

"I am his son and since he is dead I have taken his place. I am now Chief of Ghalas-at. All my wishes must be obeyed."

"But first you must become a man. As is the custom, therefore, I will have to whip you with a switch of nettles and then tie you to a red-ant hill." (8.21-22)

Why does Ramo assume that he is the new chief of the island, even though Karana is older?

The laws of Ghalas-at forbade the making of weapons by women of the tribe, so I went out to search for any that might have been left behind. (9.10)

Why weren't women allowed to make weapons?

As I lay there I wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women – if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself.

Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons? Or would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rocks? Or, as other said, would the sea rise over the islands in a terrible flood? Would the weapons break in my hands at the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said? (9.25-27)

What do you think of the images Karana uses to describe what will happen if she breaks the law forbidding women to make weapons? Why are they related to nature?

Often I would put on the skirt and the sandals and walk along the cliff with Rontu. Sometimes I made a wreath of flowers and fastened it in my hair. After the Aleuts had killed our men at Coral Cove, all the women of our tribe had singed their hair short as a sign of mourning. I had singed mine, too, with a faggot, but now it had grown long again and came to my waist. (18.10)

What's the importance of hair to the women of the tribe? Why do they burn it off as a sign of mourning?

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)

Why do Karana and Tutok make friends? Do you think they would've made friends if Tutok were a boy? Why or why not? How are the two similar?

Then I did something that made me smile at myself. I did what my older sister Ulape had done when she left the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Below the mark of our tribe I carefully made the sign which meant that I was still unmarried. I was no longer a girl, yet I made it anyway, using the blue clay and some white clay for the dots. (29.5)

Why does Karana put the blue mark of an unmarried woman on her face before she meets the white men?

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?