Karana goes through various stages of loneliness during her time on Ghalas-at. Discuss each of these. What is different about each of these stages? What is the same? What conclusions can you draw from these similarities and differences?
After Karana finds herself stranded on the island of the blue dolphins, she still has Ramo with her, and so does not feel lonely. We know that she is not lonely simply because she doesn't say anything about being lonely. Later, when the first storm of winter comes, Karana realizes that the white men will not soon be returning to rescue her. She says that the though of spending the winter on the island alone "filled [her] heart with loneliness." She goes on to explain that hope had kept her from being lonely before, and that without hope she is lonelier, though not more alone. Karana's level of loneliness changes many more times throughout the text. One example is when she befriends Rontu, another is when she meets Tutok.
There is an important difference between loneliness and aloneness. The former is a mental state, the latter a physical state. Karana is alone when there is no one around her, but she is lonely when this aloneness makes her unhappy. Before Karana tries to leave Ghalas-at in a canoe, she is alone because she is not living with anyone, and lonely because she finds the thought of being alone unbearable. When she returns to the island, she still does not have any friends or companions, but she no longer feels lonely. Something interesting to explore might be the question of whether Karana is alone when she is with Rontu and her other animal friends.
At the beginning of Island of the Blue Dolphins, Karana's beliefs and attitudes are consistent with those of her people. By the end of the novel, however, she has developed a moral code somewhat different from that held by the former inhabitants of Ghalas-at. Discuss how and why this change occurs.
Some of the codes of conduct for Karana's people are stated at the beginning of the novel when they are still living on Ghalas-at. For example, Chowig, Karana's father and chief of Ghalas-at exhibits a notable distrust of the Aleuts that come to the island to hunt otter. One attitude of Karana's people is a distrust of outsiders—specifically the Aleuts. Karana conforms to this attitude several times in the story, such as when she meets Rontu for the first time and when Tutok comes to her cave by the ravine.
Other social norms of the villagers of Ghalas-at are not mentioned until after they are gone. One example is the tradition that only men are allowed to make weapons, and that disaster will befall any woman who tries to make a weapon on her own. Karana does not mention this tradition of her people until she realizes that she needs to make weapons. In such cases, Karana's conformity or nonconformity to the laws and norms of her people is usually expressed at the same time those laws are explained.
Sometimes Karana will explain why she conforms to or deviates from a norm of her people, such as when she decides that she will not kill any animals or birds on the island. Other times, such explanations must be inferred from the situation, such as when Karana must make weapons to defend herself, even though it goes against the law of her tribe. In both cases, the discovery of Karana's reasoning allows a contrast of her morals to those of her people.
When Karana is left alone on Ghalas-at, she is only twelve years old. As the novel progresses, she grows and changes in many ways, but in many ways stays the same. Discuss how Karana grows throughout Island of the Blue Dolphins.
The author's note at the end of Island of the Blue Dolphins explains that Karana's story is actually based on true events. Research the history of The Lost Woman of San Nicholas and discuss the novel within this historical context.
Several scenes in Island of the Blue Dolphins are repeated or mimicked later in the story. Choose one or two of these scenes and discuss its significance. How are the two scenes connected? How does O'Dell's use of repetition add to the meaning of the scene? What does this repetition imply in regards to plot development?
Karans is very wary of outsiders and intruders to her island. Discuss the idea of trust in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Is Karana trusting? Does she become more trusting later in the novel, or less so? What incidents show her trust or lack thereof?
Island of the Blue Dolphins chronicles the extraordinary story of one girl's survival. Karana must fend and provide for herself totally on her own. Describe and discuss her survival techniques. How is a twelve-year-old girl able to alone? What are her defeats and triumphs, her successes and sacrifices?
Discuss dolphins as a symbol in Island of the Blue Dolphins. What does the title of the novel suggest in light of this symbolism?