Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Many events that occur early in the novel are echoed later under slightly different conditions. For example, the sequence of events that occurs when Karana finds Rontu in the forest under attack by the pack of wild dogs mimics the scene in which she discovers that Ramo has been killed by the pack almost exactly. By making one scene resemble the other so closely, O'Dell evokes the same emotions in the reader for both scenes. In some cases, such as the one above, he is able to evoke the feelings associated with the outcome of the original scene in his description of the second. By changing the outcomes, O'Dell is able to show a progression, make a contrast, or highlight a similarity.


From the very beginning of Island of the Blue Dolphins, we can see that Karana speaks with a very distinctive voice. She speaks as if the entire world around her is alive. For example, in chapter twenty-seven she describes the giant waves crashing around thus: "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." She also tends to ascribe human characteristics to animals—she describes Won-a-nee as looking at her "reproachfully". Such use of language reveals her view of the world around her as living, and more specifically of animals as creatures similar to people, a view she comes to hold later in the novel.