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Island of the Blue Dolphins – S. O’Doll

May 20, 2015

IOTBDBased on the true story of a ‘Red Indian girl who is captured, along with others of her tribe, by white men and taken on board ship. She escapes and lives by herself on an island for eighteen years until rescue by missionaries. Like Robinson Crusoe, she survives and learns how to look after herself. Her only friends are a dog and a dolphin. A good novel on solitude which may appeal to some youngsters but there is nothing on religion – I would have expected her to wonder about the meaning in life or to invent some god to speak with – that there is nothing on this score weakens the book.

While O’Dell found inspiration in the Lone Woman’s story, he also drew from his own childhood experiences living in Southern California. He says that much of the novel “came from the memory of my years at San Pedro and Dead Man’s Island, when, with other boys my age, I voyaged out on summer mornings in search of adventure”.

This novel has strong themes of peace and protecting the environment, as well as being a story of survival. Scott O’Dell has said, “Island of the Blue Dolphins began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies”. We can see O’Dell’s anger in the way he describes the violence of the Aleutian hunters against the indigenous (native) people of the island. They mercilessly slaughter the otters there, only to move on to kill many of the people – including Karana’s father. The rest of the novel is dedicated to describing the terrible consequences of the Aleutian hunters’ violence.

IOTBD3Quotations:

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.”

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.

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.

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.

IOTBD2Dolphins 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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