Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

The Russian grasped his beard. "Since the sea is not yours, why do I have to give you any part?"

"The sea which surrounds the Island of the Blue Dolphins belongs to us," answered my father.

He spoke softly as he did when he was angry.

"From here to the coast of Santa Barbara – twenty leagues away?"

"No, only that which touches the island and where the otter live." (1.46-50)

The two leaders, Chief Chowig and Captain Orlov, negotiate for the otters on the island. In their view, nature is something that can be bought and sold. How does this idea get them into trouble? How is Karana's view of things different?

It was these creatures that the Aleuts hunted for their pelts.

From the cliff I could see the skin canoes darting here and there over the kelp beds, barely skimming the water, and the long spears flying like arrows. At dark the hunters brought their catch into Coral Cove, and there on the beach the animals were skinned and fleshed. Two men, who also sharpened the spears, did this work, laboring far into the night by the light of the seaweed fires. In the morning the beach would be strewn with carcasses, and the waves red with blood. (3.3-3.4)

The Aleuts leave the bodies of the otter all over the island's shore. This is the description of the beach after they've skinned the animals: the waves are red with blood. What does this color mean in the novel? What does the Aleuts' treatment of the otter foreshadow?

Many of our tribe went to the cliff each night to count the number killed during the day. They counted the dead otter and thought of the beads and other things that each pelt meant. But I never went to the cove and whenever I saw the hunters with their long spears skimming over the water, I was angry, for these animals were my friends. It was fun to see them playing or sunning themselves among the kelp. It was more fun than the thought of beads to wear around my neck. (3.5)

The members of Karana's tribe think of the otter pelts as something to be traded for beads and pretty things. But Karana has a different view of the animals. Why does she see the otters as her buddies? How do you view the otters?

All night I sat there with the body of my brother and did not sleep. I vowed that someday I would go back and kill the wild dogs in the cave. I would kill all of them. I thought of how I would do it, but mostly I thought of Ramo, my brother. (8.50)

Here, we get a different attitude toward the world of the island. Unlike her friendship with the playful otters, Karana is hostile toward the wolf pack and wants revenge for the death of her brother. Will she get it? At what cost?

Dolphins are animals of good omen. It made me happy to have them swimming around the canoe, and though my hands had begun to bleed from the chafing of the paddle, just watching them made me forget the pain. I was very lonely before they appeared, but now I felt that I had friends with me and did not feel the same. (10.35)

Karana feels at home in nature. Here, she sees the dolphins around her boat as good luck. Like the otters, she views the creatures as her friends.

I felt as if I had been gone a long time as I stood there looking down from the high rock. I was happy to be home. Everything that I saw- the otter playing in the kelp, the rings of foam around the rocks that guarded the harbor, the gulls flying, the tides moving past the sand spit- filled me with happiness. (11.3)

Karana's trip to the mainland fails, but when she returns to the island, she isn't sad and does not give up hope. Instead, she is content to call  as the island her home. The gulls, foam, rocks, and tides bring her happiness. Why? What does this say about Karana's character?

The two fighters paused, getting ready for a new attack. It was a good chance to send an arrow into the young bull, who lay on his back with his teeth still grasping the other's neck. But I hoped that he would win the battle, and I stood there and did not move. (13.20)

Karana rarely steps into the interactions of the animals or uses violence to stop their fighting. She lets things play out as they would have if she were not there. Why do you think that is? What does that say about Karana's relationship with nature? Is this the way you act? For example, have you ever had a pet cat that caught a bird?  What did you do?

Why I did not send the arrow I cannot say. I stood on the rock with the bow pulled back and my hand would not let it go. The big dog lay there and did not move and this may be the reason. If he had gotten up I would have killed him. I stood there for a long time looking down at him and then I climbed off the rocks.

He did not move when I went up to him, nor could I see him breathing until I was very close. The head of the arrow was in his chest and the broken shaft was covered with blood. The thick fur around his neck was matted from the rain. (15.22-23)

Even though she wanted revenge for her brother's death, Karana doesn't end up killing the leader of the dog pack. She can't bring herself to send the arrow that would kill him. Why? What kind of relationship will Karana later have with the leader? Which is more important to Karana – mercy or justice?

In a short time Rontu rose to his feet and left the spotted dog where it lay. He walked to the top of the mound and lifted his head and gave a long howl. I had never heard this sound before. It was the sound of many things that I did not understand. (17.27)

Karana doesn't involve herself in the dogfight, though she watches it. She acknowledges that she doesn't understand the wolf pack and so she does not intervene in the natural world.

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 hunt of the giant devilfish ends up in a dead end: she kills the fish, but she can't carry his body from the shore. She and Rontu are hurt during the hunt. What does she learn from this incident? Why doesn't Karana hunt devilfish again?

After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long thin necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to spear another elephant. (24.18)

Karana's friendship with the otter Won-a-nee helps her to start respecting the animals on the island. She goes vegetarian, for lack of a better word. What do you think of Karana's decision? Do you think you would do the same?

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)

For Karana, nature is something that can't be owned or controlled. This is different from her father's view and the view of the Aleuts. Here nature threatens her life as the giant waves break on the shore. Notice how the waves are described as battling men. Why does the color red appear here?

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