Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Forgiveness and Trust

After Ramo is killed and Karana is left alone on Ghalas-at, she has many enemies and no friends. She is harassed constantly by the wild dogs of her island, and lives with the vague fear in the back of her mind that one day the Aleuts that killed her people will return to the island. Eventually, Karana is forced into confrontation both with the wild dogs and with the Aleuts. In each case she has the opportunity to take her revenge, but doesn't. The case of Tutok is the most important of these because it shows the development of Karana's trust in more detail and to a deeper extent (in the case of Rontu, the only thing Karana and Rontu to show trust was refrain from killing each other). In the case of Tutok, Karana is mistrustful because Tutok is an Aleut. She has seen first hand what happens when one deals with these people, and has likely inherited some of the dislike and mistrust her father had for them. Even when Tutok makes friendly gestures, Karana is aloof and assumes that Tutok will betray her to the Aleut hunters. It takes a long time for Karana to see that Tutok has no ill intent, but it is some time before Karana makes a gesture of trust on her own. When Karana reveals her secret name to Turok, it is her ultimate sign of trust, for she ascribed her father's death to his decision to reveal his secret name to someone not worthy of trust. What Karana receives from her trust is a rewarding relationship that she will remember and think about for the rest of the novel.

Loneliness and Companionship

Karana progresses through several states of loneliness during her time on the island. When she is first stranded, and he brother is with her, she does not mention feeling any loneliness at all. Though she is worried about herself and her brother, she does not feel any lonelier than she did with her people. This is because she has the benefits both of human companionship and of the hope that the white men's ship will return to take them away. After Ramo is killed, Karana is sad, but still not so lonely, because she knows that any day she could see the white men's ship on the horizon. Karana's first winter on the island is the most difficult for her, because her hope of being rescued any time soon dies with the coming of the first winter storm. This is Karana's point of deepest despair in the novel, when she sets out on her own for the land to the east. When Karana returns from her trials on the sea, she sees her island in a whole new light; she sees it as her home. The familiarity of the island reduces her loneliness, but does not replace what she had before. When Karana meets Rontu, she finally has someone to talk to. Not until then does she realize how lonely she had been on the island. Rontu is nice to talk to, but he never talks back. It is not until Karana meets Tutok that she has someone to talk with. Again, Karana had not known how lonely she had been without Tutok. Each level of loneliness is tolerable until Karana experiences something better. This is a problem for Karana when Tutok leaves, because she now feels the empty space in her life that Tutok had filled. The desire to have someone to talk with lingers with Karana for the rest of he story, and it is probably the main reason she decides in the end to leave her home and go out into the unknown.

Moral Development

When Karana is first left alone on the island, her moral ideology is more or less identical to that of her people. As the story progresses, however, Karana develops her own moral code. The laws of Karana's tribe forbid women from making weapons, a fact that Karana struggles with constantly as she pits superstition against necessity. The first time she makes weapons, she is very fearful; the second time she is less fearful but still nervous; the third time, when she makes the spear to catch the devilfish, she does so without any misgivings. Indeed, she makes that spear almost as a hobby, for catching devilfish is not a necessity. Another way in which Karana departs from her tribe's rituals is through her friendship with Tutok. After the incident with Captain Orlov, the people of Ghalas-at become the sworn enemies of the Aleuts. Karana, however, gives Tutok a chance, even though she is an Aleut and potentially very dangerous. Eventually, Karana eve learns to trust someone she had formerly considered an enemy. A final way in which Karana divulges from the ideology of her people is her decision not to kill any more animals. Hunting and killing animals was a necessary part of her tribe's economy, but Karana no longer wishes to kill animals because she sees them as very much like people. Karana admits that her friends and family would likely find her decision that animals are like people amusing, but she has come to it through her own experience sticks by it.