Skip over navigation

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Scott O'Dell

Chapters 20–21

Chapters 18–19

Chapters 22–23

Summary

Karana finishes gathering her winter supply of abalones and sets them out to dry. She sets up a net of shiny shells to keep her food safe from the gulls and lines the abalones on shelves she makes just for that purpose. With her winter food supply safe, Karana sets off exploring the island. She and Rontu go to the beach, the Black Cave, and Tall Rock.

Tall Rock, some distance from the island, is covered with cormorants. Karana intends to make a skirt of cormorant feathers, and so she kills a number of them to bring home. Black Cave is near the place where the people of Ghalas-at stored their canoes to escape the Aleuts. While rowing, Karana sees a hawk fly out of the cave and goes in to explore. Inside, she and Rontu find a row of figures made from reeds and clothed in gull feathers. Their eyes are made from abalone shells and glitter eerily. In the center of these figures sits a skeleton playing a pelican bone flute. Karana goes to leave the cave, but the tide has gone up and covered the entrance. She and Rontu thus have to spend the night in the cave with the strange figures and the skeleton. When Karana and Rontu leave the next morning, Karana names the cave "Black Cave" and vows never to return there again.

One day, while Karana is on Tall Rock, she sees a strange cloud upon the sea. Before long, she realizes it is a ship. This ship sails out of the north, not from the east where the white men live. Karana suspects that the ship belongs to the Aleuts, and though they have not returned for two summers, she decides to pack her things and move to her cave home that she made after she injured her leg. When everything is packed, she goes back to take another look at the ship. It has two red sails. Knowing that the Aleuts will not land until morning, Karana goes back to her house and makes it look as if no one has lived there for a long time. She goes back to the headland and sees that the Aleuts have set up camp; a woman is cooking on the shore. With some difficulty, Karana persuades Rontu to enter their cave-house, then she seals the door and goes to sleep.

Karana goes out that night to observe the Aleut camp. She does not take Rontu with her, because the Aleuts may have brought dogs. She watches the Aleut camp, trying to think of the best way to avoid them. Karana is afraid the Aleut girl might happen upon her house while looking for food or water, but decides to stay in the cave in the ravine. She collects some food and water and goes back to her cave.

During the long days in her cave, Karana works on her cormorant skirt. As time passes and the Aleuts do not venture near her cave, Karana moves outside to work. One day, while Karana is working outside her cave, the Aleut girl wanders into the ravine. Though her spear is within easy reach and the Aleuts are her enemy, Karana does not attack the girl. The girl calls Rontu to her, and motions to say that Rontu is hers. Karana protests, and the girl acquiesces, signing that Rontu now belongs to Karana. The girl speaks to Karana in a language that Karana can barely understand, but Karana does know the word wintscha ("pretty"), which the girl uses to describe Karana's cormorant skirt. Karana allows the girl, whose name is Tutok, to try on the skirt, but at the same time is mistrustful because Tutok is an Aleut. Soon Tutok leaves, and Karana, fearing that she will return with the Aleut hunters, gathers her things and prepares to leave. When Karana returns, she knows someone has been at her cave. She looks fearfully around, not daring to enter. All she finds, however, is a necklace of beautiful black rocks left at the entrance of the cave.

Analysis

Black Cave is a representation of the underworld of death, for Karana says that she knows the skeleton is one of her ancestors, as are the reed figures (even though they are only representations). When Karana enters Black Cave, she remarks how similar it is to the cave beneath the headland, the one that made Karana wonder if Tumaiyowit went to such a place when he left the world above. There are a number of figures in Black Cave, most are life-sized dolls (with very lifelike eyes), but another is a skeleton with a bone flute. Karana explains in an earlier chapter that people die because Tumaiyowit did. Trapped in the cave, Karana, at least metaphorically, is forced to face death. It could represent that the time for Karana's people on the island is over, since there are more spirits on the island than living people, or that her people will rule Ghalas-at forever, because their spirits stay there when they die. It could be an unsettling reminder to Karana that she is not truly alone on the island, or it could be a symbol of the living spirit of Ghalas-at. In any case, it is a glimpse into an interesting and subtle theme hat has been running along beneath the storyline.

This section is important because is chronicles Karana's first contact with other human beings since Ramo died. Unfortunately for Karana, the visitors to the island are the Aleuts, her enemies. Karana's only contact with the Aleuts was years earlier when they killed her tribesmen. Because this was her only impression of them, it is easy to understand why she dislikes them and considers them a threat. When Tutok appears by Karana's house, Karana has every reason to kill her. If Tutok tells the hunters about Karana, they may come back for her, but Karana does nothing. This scene mimics the one in which Karana decides not to kill Rontu, but is different in that pity cannot be the reason why Karana does not kill Tutok. Karana said that one of the reasons she did not kill Rontu might have been because he was so helpless. Tutok is perfectly healthy, however. Although Karana does not understand why she was unable to kill her enemy, she may be motivated by a need for companionship. The similarity of this scene to the one in which Karana spared Rontu echoes the outcome of that encounter, and suggests the possibility that there will be a similar outcome.

More Help

Previous Next
island of the blue dolphin

by adambob12, February 15, 2013

i love the book it is awesome I'm on chapter 16 it is the besy book better

1 Comments

12 out of 23 people found this helpful

May need to know..

by HCW10, January 02, 2014

There are some other important notes my Language Art teacher thinks we should know...There was good fortune when the fish washed up on shore to feed them and when Wana-a-pa-le got upset about them killing the otters...this might help a little but otherwise it explains a lot already.

0 Comments

4 out of 4 people found this helpful

Island of the Blue Dolphins

by note3, February 20, 2014

i hate this our teacher just assigned us this omg i hate this

0 Comments

2 out of 10 people found this helpful

Follow Us