Island of the Blue Dolphins

The Island of the Blue Dolphins: Presentational Realism, Conflict, and Forgiveness

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is a fictional historical novel about a girl named Karana written by Scott O’Dell. Presentational realism is the method by which an author makes his story, even if it is a fantasy or science fiction, believable: often through using first person narration and a narrator who is not omniscient. The reader only interacts with what the character speaking can sense, think, or speak. Characterization is when the author allows an attentive reader to know a character so well that he or she can almost predict his or her reactions to events not pictured in the author’s story. Good characterization can allow the reader to feel as if one knows the character being related like the people in the reader’s daily life. Scott O’Dell, the author of Island of the Blue Dolphins uses characterization and presentational realism while telling a story of conflict and forgiveness. Forgiveness is pardoning someone else’s wrong deed against oneself, even acting like that person or those persons never hurt one at all. Conflict is any type of struggle. The struggles in literature are often separated into three basic kinds: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Karana grows as a person and resolves three conflicts through charity and forgiveness: she resolves her conflict with the Aleuts who led to the death of her father and so many fellow tribesmen (man vs. man) by sparing and befriending May-noy (Tutok), her conflict with the wild dog Rontu who led the pack which killed her brother (man vs. nature) by sparing, healing, and forgiving him and taming other animals, and finally she resolves the conflict of man vs. self, her loneliness, by resolving her conflicts with nature and man by charity and forgiveness.

Ramo, Karana’s brother, is a rash boy. On seeing the Russian’s ship, he cried, “A great one, bigger than all our canoes together. A canoe or ship, it did not matter to Ramo. In the very next breath he tossed the root in the air and was gone, crashing through the brush shouting as he went.  Karana, however, keeps gathering roots for a good purpose although she is excited: “I wanted to drop the stick and run too, but I went on gathering roots because they were needed in the village” (O’Dell, 3).  Karana shows charity here; she is placing the needs of her village ahead of her own desire.

Notice, too, how the author skillfully describes events and people very simply, yet still manages to paint a picture in your mind through the use of Karana as the narrator: “Six men with long oars were rowing. Their faces were long and shining dark hair fell over their eyes. When they came close I noticed that they had bone ornaments thrust into their noses (O’Dell, 4).” This is an example both of imagery, painting a picture in the reader’s mind, and presentational realism: he does not put super-human knowledge of events into Karana or explain things outside of her experience. She explains the custom of secret names to the reader; she has given the reader her secret name instead of her public one “Won-a-pei-lei” or “Girl-with-the-long-black-hair.” Her father, Chief Chowig, gives his real name to Captain Orlov, the Russian: “Why he gave it to a stranger I do not know.”

Forgiveness solves the conflicts in this novel:

-Karana resolves the conflict of man vs. man by befriending, forgiving, and showing mercy to Tutok the Aleut girl

-Karana resolves the conflict of man vs. nature by taming and forgiving Rontu, the leader of the wild dogs who killed her brother, nurturing and taming other animals on the island, and (at last) killing animals only when necessary and not simply to satisfy her own wants.

-Karana resolves the conflict of man vs. self (she is the only human being on the island for a long time, and the only one of her own tribe after Ramo’s death) by resolving the other conflicts: she is no longer lonely because she is at peace with the animals around her and has tamed many animals who are her “children” as she sees them. She is also no longer lonely when she befriends the Aleut girl from the tribe which killed so many of her relatives. She finally resolves the conflict of her loneliness by leaving the island with the white men and the priest who find her.
-Text: Scholastic Version, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell


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