Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-22


Chapter 19

Karana does not see the giant devilfish again, and eventually gives up on hunting it. Instead, she focuses on gathering abalone, which are plentiful.

But one day, the huge devilfish suddenly appears in the cove. She spears it successfully, but it is large and heavy, and requires much effort to remove from the water. She eventually drags the fish to the beach, where she kills it with a knife. In the process, both she and Rontu are injured by its desperate struggle to return to the water.

Chapter 20

After the incident with the devilfish, Karana decides that hunting squid is too dangerous and difficult. She returns to eating abalone as her primary seafood, using their shiny shells to scare the gulls away from her harvest.

As time goes by, Karana begins to explore the far parts of the island, which include Tall Rock, where she hunts cormorants, and Black Cave.

Black Cave is a sea cave that is only accessible when the tide is low. Karana has never explored it, and decides to venture in with her canoe after seeing a hawk fly out of it. The cave is large and very dark, and she is shocked to find a human skeleton perched on a ledge inside. She also finds some disturbing dolls with bright black eyes. Although Karana knows these are artifacts from her ancestors, she is frightened nevertheless.

By the time she and Rontu try to row out of the cave, the tide has risen and blocked the entrance. They therefore have to spend the night in the canoe inside the cave, waiting for the tide to come down. It is one of the scariest nights of Karana’s life, and she decides never to return to Black Cave.

Although the Aleuts have not returned in the two years Karana has been stranded, she still fears their return, and watches for their sails on the horizon every morning. One day, she does see a ship, coming from a different direction than she expects. Although she is not sure whether the ship belongs to the Aleuts, she decides to be cautious: she hides all of her important possessions in her canoe, which she then hides in the ravine cave near her house. She also throws the rest of her belongings in the sea and dismantles her dwelling to disguise any trace of human inhabitation on the island. Finally, she prepares to hide herself in her second home, the cave.

Before setting herself up in the cave, she notices a woman from the ship tending a campfire on the beach.

Chapter 21

Karana knows that the Aleut men spend all day hunting otter at sea, so she is not initially concerned about being spotted during daytime hours. However, the Aleut woman (Tutok, though Karana does not yet know her name) spends her days collecting plants from around the island, so Karana is careful to stay hidden from her, staying in the cave most of the day and gathering roots and abalones only at night. She also keeps Rontu in the cave, fearing that he might join the dogs at the Aleut camp and not come back.

To pass the time during the day, Karana makes herself a skirt from cormorant feathers. She works very hard on it, and the finished product is so beautiful that she steps outside the cave in the daytime to admire it in the sunlight. Unfortunately, Tutok appears while Karana is outside. Karana is worried, but the girl seems friendly. Though they do not speak the same language, Karana manages to introduce herself; Karana does not give her name. The girl - Tutok - compliments Karana's skirt. Tutok is very curious about Karana’s cave, but Karana refuses to let her look inside, worried the girl might betray her to the Aleuts.

That night, Karana prepares to move to the west side of the island, where she will hide from the Aleuts until they leave. She uses her canoe to carry away some of her possessions, and on her return can sense that someone has been to her cave. She is about to run away when she notices that someone has left her a beautiful black necklace near the entrance.

Chapter 22

That night, Karana sleeps at the headland instead of in the cave, to protect herself.

The next morning, she returns to the cave to see if Tutok will return. Tutok does appear, and the girls have fun teaching each other words in their languages. At first, Karana does not want to give Tutok her secret name, so introduces herself as Won-a-pa-lei. But after a day of friendly socializing, she finally reveals her real name, and also gives Tutok a seashell headband as a gift.

Over the next few weeks, Tutok visits Karana each day. One day, she does not appear. Though Karana worries she might have left, she makes dinner for Tutok anyway. She then spies on the Aleuts to see them preparing to leave.

The next morning, the ships are gone. Although Karana is relieved to be out of danger, she is sad that her friend has left her alone.


In previous chapters, Karana has both severed many of her ties with her past, and discovered a powerful self-reliance. Both of these changes are challenged in these chapters.

Though Karana found a way to move forward from the tribe's expectations - most notably by making weapons despite being a girl and by burning the village down - she realizes in these chapters that the past remains anyway. The cave she uses to hide from the Aleuts has paintings and cisterns from previous generations, and the Black Cave seems to be a ceremonial tomb.

Karana has a complicated reaction to these moments of connection with her ancestors. The cistern and cave paintings seem to comfort her, reminding her that she is not alone, but she is terrified by the Black Cave, and takes little comfort from the fact that the skeleton is most likely one of her distant relatives. Her reaction reflects her desire to be free of the past. By dwelling on the past, she might fall again into her delusional belief that someone will come to rescue her. Therefore, these reminders are difficult for her to manage. Further, the ghoulish quality of the Black Cave offers a reminder that not everything about humanity is wonderful. Instead, humanity is marked as much by death and destruction - consider the Aleuts and their attack on the tribe - as it is by the pastoral nature she remembers of her family.

She particularly has to confront these complicated feelings about humanity with Tutok. One might think Karana would never trust the girl; after all, Tutok is aligned with the people who massacred Karana's tribe. However, the situation is complicated by Tutok's kindness. As soon as Tutok leaves the necklace as a gift, Karana's defenses quickly fall. Much as she recognized her loneliness after adopting Rontu, she now admits how much she misses humanity despite her insistence on not needing them.

Karana’s decision to trust Tutok might be an act of desperation – it has been years since she has interacted with another human, and it makes sense that she would be willing to risk her safety to make a friend. Even the act of communication is something that has become foreign, so Karana is overjoyed for the chance to do so again.

This complicated sense of humanity - as neither entirely good nor entirely bad - is mirrored by the tribe's relationship with the Aleuts early in the novel. When the Aleuts first come to visit the island, they buy access to the sea otters with iron spearheads and jewelry. Although the tribe distrusts the Aleuts because of an incident that happened many years before, they are willing to put their concerns aside in order to get supplies and luxuries that they cannot make on the island. At the time, Karana is the only person in the tribe who questions whether it is acceptable to sacrifice the otter population for jewelry. But when Karana meets Tutok several years later, jewelry sways her just as easily as it did Chief Chowig. In other words, her maturity has taught her that it is not easy to think one simple way about humans.

Another way that Karana grows in these chapters is by confronting the fact that she does not have as much control over nature as she believed. Instead, she is a part of it, and hence is subject to its dangers. Her journey to the Black Cave is affected by the tides, something she has no control over. And her difficulty in hunting the giant devilfish reminds her that not everything is under her control. Though she eventually defeats it, it takes her two chapters of narrative to do so, and she and Rontu and both wounded in the process. This moment mirrors what she learned while hunting the sea elephants; despite her best efforts there, she was wounded terribly and only got what she wanted because another animal killed her prey. When it comes to surviving, learning one’s limitations is just as important as learning new skills.