27 of the tribe’s 42 members die in the battle with the Aleuts, including most of the young men. Of the fifteen people left, most are old men, women, and children. This is a major problem because the young men are traditionally the ones who fish, catch birds, and build canoes.
The tribal council chooses a new chief, an old man named Kimki. Kimki decides that women must now perform jobs that were formerly performed by men. Everyone in the tribe is given a job – even little Ramo is asked to contribute by keeping the seagulls away from the food. Ulape and Karana are assigned to collect abalones, a kind of shellfish, from the cove.
Because everyone works hard, the tribe manages to survive despite the extreme hardship. However, the men soon grow resentful that the women are performing traditionally male duties. To keep peace, Kimki orders that jobs be separated again.
The tribe collects enough food for winter, but remains depressed because of its loss. By the time spring comes, it is clear that they feel compelled to leave. Thus, Kimki sets out by canoe for the mainland, in hopes of finding a good place for the tribe to relocate. It is a difficult journey, one he might not survive.
After Kimki is gone for several months, the tribe chooses a man named Matasaip to replace him as chief. Matasaip is particularly worried that the Aleuts might return, as they arrived in late spring of the year before. Since the tribe now lacks men to fight, they agree to flee by canoe to the nearby island of Santa Catalina, and stockpile some food in case that happens.
Sure enough, some ships return. The tribe silently prepares to flee, but their lookout Nanko stops them before they can set off. Nanko explains that these are different ships than those of the Aleut ships.
Matasaip talks to the visitors to learn that they are white men sent by Kimki to bring the tribe to the mainland. Although the tribe does not know where they are going, they trust Kimki and agree to go along.
As Karana packs a basket of her favorite possessions, Ulape paints her face in a tribal way, to show that she is an unattached young woman.
When the wind picks up, Nanko urges the people to hurry, since the wind will soon make it dangerous for the ship, and the sailors will leave people behind in that case. There is much confusion as people pile into the boats, and no one notices when Ramo runs off to get his fishing spear. The canoes are already making their way towards the ship when Ramo appears on the shore clutching his spear.
Despite Karana's cries, Chief Matasaip refuses to turn back for the young boy. The waves are too strong, and would destroy the canoes.
Without thinking, Karana grabs her basket and dives into the water. The waves beat her down until she is forced to let the basket sink in order to reach the shore. When she does, she hugs Ramo and promises that the ship will return for them soon.
When Karana and Ramo return to the abandoned village, they find that wild dogs have already eaten much of the food that the tribe left behind. For dinner, they eat the remainder of the abalone stores, but the next day have to start gathering their own food. Karana gathers seeds and gull eggs, while Ramo spears some small fish.
Ramo admits he likes living alone in the village, and confesses that he hopes the ships do not return. He wears one of the older men’s necklaces and declares himself Chief of Ghalas-at. He even gives himself a new name: Tanyositlopai.
Playacting as chief, Ramo orders that one of the canoes be brought from its holding place on the other side of the island, so that he and Karana can fish in the ocean. Of course, Ramo is too small to handle a canoe, and Karana tries to discourage him. However, he is gone the next morning when Karana wakes up. Though initially concerned, she realizes she cannot catch up to him, and collects mussels while waiting for his return.
After he does not return for several hours, she searches for him. Soon enough, she finds his corpse surrounded by wild dogs. His throat has been ripped out. There are dead dogs nearby, and she deduces that he was attacked, and then fought.
Karana carries her brother's body to a cave, stopping by the village to fetch a club with which to protect herself from the dogs. That night, she sleeps with her dead brother in the cave, and vows to kill the wild dogs.
Eventually, Karana decides to leave the village, since it reminds her too much of her lost family and friends. She burns it to the ground, and moves to a clearing near a spring.
Because she still believes a ship will soon return for her, Karana does not bother to store food, and instead looks for weapons to protect herself from the dogs. Unfortunately, the tribe has a law that bars women from creating their own weapons. Karana worries that something terrible will happen to her if she breaks this law, so she tries to find pre-made weapons in the ruins of the village.
While looking, she suddenly remembers that the tribe's hunters had left a single chest on the beach after the battle with the Aleuts. She digs in the sand there until she finds it, but it contains only jewelry, and no spearheads.
Initially, she is delighted by the beautiful trinkets, and parades around the beach wearing them. But when she remembers the price that the tribe paid for the jewelry, she throws it all into the sea.
Eventually, Karana accepts that she will have to break the weapon-making law if she hopes to survive. She creates a wooden spear from a tree root, and also builds a bow and arrow for herself. These weapons make Karana feel safe from the dogs, and she soon falls into a routine. Each morning, she sleeps late, looks for the ship, bathes, and catches food for herself. She makes a camp up on a big rock on the headland, where she will be protected from the dogs while asleep. All the while, she hopes to kill the leader of the wild dog pack (a gray dog with yellow eyes) to avenge Ramo, but never gets a chance.
Months go by, and the ship does not return.
One of the most intriguing themes that these chapters introduce is the role and power of women. Following the disaster with the Aleuts, the tribe must reimagine the way it works. In particular, women are forced to take on traditionally male duties in order to survive. Although Karana is still too young to perform the strenuous jobs like hunting, she now takes on the more important role of gathering abalone.
And yet O'Dell makes it clear that this tribal society has its own prejudices. Though he does not explicitly criticize the tribe's attitude towards woman, he suggests through Karana's ingenuity that it undervalues them. After the atrocity with the Aleuts, the men in the tribe soon begin to resent the women for taking their jobs. Even though the women's activity is helping the tribe survive, many of these men would rather them not be so involved. Paired with the law against women making weapons that Karana later reveals, it is clear that women are undervalued.
It is telling that Ulape is such an effeminate girl - she paints herself to exhibit her desire to marry, and is uninterested in the more masculine activities. She is far more aligned with the tribe's expectations of women, and stands in stark contrast to what Karana becomes.
Indeed, Karana shows quickly enough on the island that she is more than capable of surviving. After Ramo dies, she shoulders the tragedy with great maturity, and does not let it keep her from moving forward. Even though she is guided by her emotions - the village depresses her, so she burns it down - she does not let them consume her. Instead, she moves forward, making prudent decisions that will prolong her life. Thus, the moment when she makes her own weapons is something of a personal triumph: she is realizing that she is an individual capable of more than her tribe taught her she was capable of.
Her behavior at this point speaks to more than just gender issues, however. It shows that Karana is choosing to create her own life, with its own rules. She burns down the village, showing that it no longer has to be the center of her life. Throughout the novel, she becomes progressively more psychologically independent.
Nevertheless, O’Dell consistently emphasizes the importance of family to Karana. The clearest manifestation of this is when she dives from the canoe to save Ramo. It is not a conscious choice, but rather an instinct that reveals her as stronger than most others. In a life-or-death situation, the other tribe members place their own survival above Ramo’s. Karana is the only one willing to put her life at risk to save the young boy. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that Ramo is the only family she has left - Chief Chowig has died, and Ulape suggests she soon hopes to marry Nanko - but it is also a reflection of her personal strength and resolve.
Chief Chowig’s death also affected Ramo in ways that extend beyond the obvious. Ramo’s fierce insistence that he is the new chief of Ghalas-at is based on a desire to be like his father. Ramo seems to believe that he can keep his father's memory alive by following in the man's footsteps. In addition to taking a new name and calling himself chief, Ramo also tries to take on adult jobs like sailing a canoe and spear fishing. This ultimately leads to his death, when he journeys up the trail alone and is killed by wild dogs. In other words, the boy's death is a reflection not only of his immaturity, but also of his emotional turmoil over his father's death.
Despite all of Karana's personal growth, she still clings to her belief that a ship will come, even refusing to store food for this reason. This behavior is called denial, and people often act this way in difficult situations. Because it is too hard to accept their changed circumstances, people in denial convince themselves that the situation is not as bad as it seems. Although Karana has started to adjust to her new life of self-reliance, she remains in denial about the fact that she might be left on the island for the rest of her life.