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Literature / Island of the Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O'Dell and published in 1960, tells the true story of the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island," an Indian woman marooned for 18 years, and was the Newbery Medal winner of 1961. Think Robinson Crusoe, but with a Native American girl.

Spanning from the period before her abandonment up to her departure from the island, the story is narrated by Karana, the marooned woman. After many of Karana's people are killed in a battle with Aleut hunters, the remaining islanders emigrate from the island to the California mainland. An impending storm forces the ship to leave early and Karana and her younger brother are left behind. Soon after, her brother is killed by a pack of wild dogs. The ship never returns, and Karana is left alone on the island for what will be 18 years.


During that time, she learns to survive on her own. She takes over traditionally male tasks such as canoe-building and spear-making in order to survive, overcoming superstition that doing so would bring bad luck. Also during that time she domesticates the wild dog who killed her brother, attempts and fails to leave the island on her own, fights a "devilfish", and secretly befriends an Aleut girl when the Aleut hunters return.

Its sequel, Zia, tells of her niece and Karana's eventual arrival on the California mainland.


Tropes found in Island of the Blue Dolphins:

  • The Aloner
  • Based on a True Story: In fact, in 2012 researchers uncovered the cave where the woman who inspired the story lived.
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: A pack of wild dogs roam the island and kill Karana's younger brother. She sets out to get revenge on them, but she ends up nursing their pack leader to health. The leader (named Rontu) ends up averting the trope by becoming her loyal companion.
  • Bus Crash: The entire people of Ghalas-at.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Karana is actually the daughter of the chief, but she averts the trope as she doesn't trust the Aleuts for a second.
  • Death by Despair: In Zia, the exact cause of Karana's death is unknown, but Zia believes that it was the shock of finally meeting some people, and then realizing she couldn't connect to them anymore.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Let's see... Karana's father, Karana's brother, Karana's whole village, and her dog.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Karana's dog, Rontu. After nearly killing him, she has a change of heart and adopts him.
  • Deserted Island
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Ramo
  • I Know Your True Name: The people of the tribe have a name others know and a secret name. The chief uses his secret name with the Aleuts and when he dies, the people believe it was because he used his secret name.
  • Kids' Wilderness Epic: Karana isn't a child, but she isn't an adult either, and she must learn to survive while exploring her island home.
  • Last of Her Kind: Possibly Karana, in the sequel. At the time she arrives at the mission, there is no one there who actually came from Ghalas-at, only their descendants, nor does anyone ever mention them living anywhere else. We do know that Zia, Karana's niece, does not speak her language (or any other Native American language; she only knows English and Spanish), suggesting that for one reason or another she was not brought up around other Native people.
  • The Musical: The Seattle Children's Theatre made a musical play of the story for kids. Less than halfway through the book's story she immediately leaves the island with the Aleut girl.
  • Retcon: Averted. People seem to have the impression that the entire village drowned before reaching California. However, the book states that "the ship sank had sank in a great storm soon after it reached his country", which would imply that they dropped off the rest of Karana's village on the mainland, but sank before it could go back for her. This means that Karana having a niece and nephew through her sister (the only member of her family to make it off the island) is not a retcon at all.
  • Robinsonade: With a twist - Karana isn't stranded far away from civilization, per se, but stranded without civilization. She has to learn to survive alone on the island she's always called home, without her community.
  • Roman à Clef
  • Revenge: Karana intends to kill the pack of wild dogs that killed her brother, but she adopts their leader instead.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: In Zia, Karana dies soon after arriving at the Santa Barbara mission - much like what happened to the real Lone Woman.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Karana's brother decides to go off hunting, alone, on an island with packs of vicious wild dogs running around everywhere. Naturally he doesn't last very long.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: How Karana can tell that Rontu-Aru is Rontu's son.


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