Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-13


Chapter 10

Karana survives through the winter and fall. When summer arrives, Karana believes that the ship will take advantage of the nice weather to return for her. But summer turns to fall, and Karana accepts that she will remain on the island for another winter. One night, a storm makes it impossible for her to sleep on the headland, so Karana moves her camp to lower ground. The dogs are initially attracted to the fire she builds, but they stop bothering her when she shoots three of them with her arrows.

During the storm, Karana decides that she should repair a canoe and sail to nearby Santa Catalina. She takes the tribe’s smallest canoe, which still holds some dried food from the previous year. Meant to carry six people, it is too big for Karana to handle easily, but she is determined to escape the island. She paddles all day and into the night, using the North Star to guide her.

Unfortunately, the canoe starts to leak. Karana tries to plug the leak with a piece of her dress, to little avail. Eventually, she accepts that she will never succeed, and turns back with a heavy heart. The only thing that cheers her up is a group of blue dolphins who swim with her as she journeys back to the island. They give her hope and strength to keep rowing, and she lands back on the island shore within a day.

Chapter 11

Karana is so exhausted from her journey that she falls asleep on the beach. When she wakes up, she returns to the headland, and is for the first time happy to see it. She now accepts the Island of the Blue Dolphins as her home, and resolves not to attempt escape again.

Realizing she will need a more permanent house, she starts scouting caves, but finally finds a perfect spot near the spring. She likes this location because the sea lions gather nearby, and because it is close to drinking water. Karana then develops a plan to build a fence that will protect her home and her stored food from foxes and wild dogs.

Chapter 12

Karana builds a fence using the skeleton of a whale that had beached on the island many years before. She ties its rib bones together with bull kelp, and uses wood and plants to construct a house within the fence. The only entrance to the house is a path she digs under the fence, and which she protects with stones. She even creates reed baskets and stone utensils to make cooking easier.

By spring, Karana’s house is finished and reasonably comfortable. She becomes an expert at cooking, and develops a way to preserve her fire overnight, to save the effort of restarting it each day.

She now turns her attention to killing the wild dogs, to avenge Ramo. She needs heavier weapons to kill the dogs, so she stays up late each night constructing a bigger spear and sharper arrows. For light, she burns sai-sai, tiny fish that are too small to eat but very flammable once they have been dried.

Karana builds a new bow and arrow, but she needs a bigger spear tip in order to complete the spear. The best spears in Ghalas-at were made from the teeth of sea lions, but killing such a large animal required several men. Karana begins to wonder if there is any way she could kill one herself.

Chapter 13

The next morning, Karana prepares to attack a sea lion with her new arrows. Remembering how Chief Chowig warned that a bow and arrow would break at a time of need if a woman used it, she worries what will happen.

At the beach, Karana spies on the sea lions for a while, trying to decide which to kill. She settles on a young bull that is isolated from the group. She shoots an arrow at it, but misses.

Just then, an older bull attacks the young one. They fight savagely, and Karana cuts her leg as she scrambles to flee from them. She watches the fight for a while, but finally accepts that she will not succeed in killing either animal. In pain, she limps back to her house.


In these chapters, Karana undergoes a change as she realizes that she may be stranded on the island for a very long time. When summer passes with no rescue, she has to accept that her tribe has forgotten about her. Her self-reliance grows even more when she decides that she will have to rescue herself.

This is what drives her to row to Santa Catalina Island. Although her escape attempt fails, the incident is important because it shows that Karana has started to take responsibility for her fate. She no longer relies on others to rescue her, but has started to become self-reliant. In other words, she is getting over her delusion.

The escape attempt is also important as one of Karana's first profound experiences with animals. On her return back, she worries she might die, but is encouraged by a group of blue dolphins. The blue dolphins symbolize hope and happiness. They inspire Karana to continue rowing even though she is exhausted and ready to give up.

This hope becomes crucial to her survival, even though it is no longer a hope that she will be miraculously rescued. When she gets back to the island, she manages to hold on to hope, and takes steps to both ensure her survival and make her life on the island more comfortable. Instead of looking to temporary solutions in anticipation of rescue, she makes long-term decisions, which include building a house and protecting her foot. Throughout the rest of the novel, hope for the future will sustain Karana and help her overcome many obstacles.

Another way Karana changes in these chapters is in her increased control over her emotions. Early in the novel, Karana’s feelings control her, and guide her decisions. Examples of this include her decision not to punish Ramo when she first swims back to the beach, and her choice to burn down Ghalas-at rather than use the buildings and their contents for survival.

As time passes, Karana develops more control over her feelings and begins to use logic, not emotion, to make decisions. Although she still hates the wild dogs and wants to kill them as revenge for Ramo’s death, she now realizes that this is not her most important priority. Instead, she chooses to build a house for herself before worrying about killing the dogs. She only pursues this goal when all of her basic survival needs are taken care of.

Although Karana has been alone for some time, O’Dell continues to weave information about Nicoleño life into the story. For instance, Karana mentions learning to weave baskets from her sister Ulape. This is historically accurate; one of the few things known about Nicoleño culture is that they were talented basket weavers. After her rescue, the real Juana Maria passed the time by weaving several different types of baskets, and more were found by archeologists on the island (“The Real Story of Karana”). Karana also mentions a creation myth that explains why the island does not have any tall trees. Although this myth was probably created by O’Dell, it is similar to real Native American creation stories. Each Native American tribe has its own mythology, but these stories were often heavily influenced by the natural environment they saw every day (Welker). Overall, O'Dell continues to teach us about tribal life while keeping us engaged in a young girl's survival story.