Category: Research

As usual, children’s literature reflects views and values of patriarchal society. However, some writers try to contradict this point of view. The authors of Julie of the Wolves and Island of Blue Dolphins try to revise sexism in children’s literature. In his novel entitled Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell tells a story about a girl named Karana, who lives in isolation from her community and the rest of the civilized world for years on an island.  Similarly to O’Dell, Jean Craighead George illustrates the life of a teenage girl named Miyax, who lives in isolation from other people in tundra in her novel Julie of the Wolves. Both novel point out the strongest sides of a woman including their ability to adapt to constantly changing environment and unbreakable will among others. Despite being rescued by men at the end of O’Dell and George’s novels, both Karana and Miyax embody feminist ideals as they resist the rules of male-dominant society, develop their identities, question gender roles, perform traditionally male tasks and can protect and stand for themselves.

Both novels demonstrate that girls can resist the rules of patriarchal society and evolve into independent individuals without men’s help. Both Karana and Miyax try to find themselves in the context of their own and other cultures they encounter. Karana, whose people were made to leave their homeland, resists Chief Kimki’s order to leave and stays on their island with her brother. When her brother dies, she faces all the aspects of growing-up alone and “a girl’s passage into adulthood”. At the beginning, Karana’s moral values and views are quite similar to those of her people. However, the girl develops her own views as the story progresses. In Karana’s tribe, it has been forbidden to women to make weapons. At first, Karana tries to follow this rule, however, decides to make weapons because of necessity. As she makes more weapons, her fear fades, and when the girl makes a spear to catch a devilfish, Karana is fearless. Moreover, making spears becomes a kind of hobby for her, as it is not necessary to catch the devilfish; she wants to catch it because she likes hunting. Karana also demonstrates her resistance to tribal rules when she becomes friends with Tutok, the one of the Aleuts, who are her tribe’s enemies. Thus, Karana develops her own identity with her own rules and values without the influence of her patriarchal community. 

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Similarly to Karana, Miyax faces physical and psychological changes in isolation from the rest of the world. However, Miyax’ transformation is more radical. She was born in Eskimo community and taken to live in modern Alaska after her father’s disappearance. At thirteen, the girl marries Daniel in an arranged marriage. After his attempt to rape her, Miyax runs away “because she fears that no one in the conservative community will support her”. She tries to break the stereotypes obtruded to her by society she lives in. Amy, her pen pal from San Francisco, becomes an idol to Miyax because she does what she likes and is satisfied with herself despite society’s opinion. For instance, Amy impresses Miyax by telling her, “I take dancing lessons, which I love, and I also like to play baseball with the kids that live on our hill”. In Miyax’ community, such behavior would be unacceptable for a girl. Moreover, Amy demonstrates proudness of her big feet even though her mother is embarrassed about them. Therefore, Amy embodies ideals of feminism to Miyax and inspires her to change her life. When the character gets lost in the tundra of Alaska, she has no food or shelter and is supposed to learn new skills in order to survive. Most importantly, she must realize, who she really is - a traditional Eskimo girl or a modern teenager, who is able to find her own way to happiness.  Thus, both Karana and Miyax demonstrate resistance to patriarchal society and grow up without any help from the outside.

Both O’Dell and George question traditional gender roles through Karana and Miyax. Most importantly, the authors demonstrate that these roles are not an absolute and can change under certain circumstances. A woman’s role of a home keeper and child bearer cannot be performed in isolation. As no men live on Karana’s island and in Miyax’ tundra, they cannot provide the girls with food and shelter. However, the characters take care for themselves in their own hands and embrace male roles. Nevertheless, they are not disappointed about it. While thinking of her sister, Karana tries not to focus on her inability to create a traditional family. On the contrary, the character is more concerned with her life as a hunter and gatherer than the traditional role she as a woman has to perform. Thus, both Karana and Miyax dispel the notion that some work is meant only for men, which is pervasive in their communities. 

The main characters of O’Dell and George’s novels demonstrate women’s ability to survive and stand for themselves without men’s help even in wild environment. Lost in tundra, Miyax learns how to communicate with wolves in order to survive. Moreover, Miyax uses her Eskimo heritage to survive, embracing both male and female roles. She makes clothing and a home of sod for herself. Moreover, she haunts like a man to get food. According to Trites, Miyax’ killings are not demonstrated as an act of violence, but as an important part of life cycles. Even though this message seems to be merely ecological, it is implicitly feminist as well, “for this ecological veneration of life cycles inherently praises the interconnectedness of life circles that feminist texts so often embrace”.  Similarly to Miyax, Karana makes killing of animals a part of her everyday life in order to survive. In her tribe, women never haunt. However, Karana has to embrace male role to get food and create other necessary conditions for survival. She makes a home of whale bones and makes provision in a cave in case if the Aleuts return. Moreover, the girl explores the island and finds ancient artifacts. Thus, both Miyax and Karana demonstrate that a woman can care for and protect herself without anyone’s help. 

In contrast to Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolf communicates the idea of that a woman constantly needs a patriarch in her life. George demonstrates that women want to be protected by a patriarch despite their ability to care for themselves. Despite being outside civilization and without other humans around, Miyax finds the one who would perform the role of her father among the wolves. Abandoning her Americanized father Kapugen, she chooses Amaroq, a wolf, to be her surrogate father. Thus, the novel suggests that women subconsciously need a father to feel protected.

Moreover, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolf seem to contradict feminist ideals by demonstrating that women are not strong enough to create their own order and keep it, and therefore, tend to choose the patriarchal one they have already got used to. According to Diann L. Baecker, Karana is “rescued by a paternalistic figure and re-inscribed into the patriarchal world”. When a ship arrives to the island, Karana is ready to embrace the rules of male-dominant society and obeys it by changing her dress. Miyax also decides to return to life in the patriarchal community. When Miyax visits her westernized father, she decides to go back to tundra, where she can live in harmony with herself and natural world around her. The girl, however, changes her mind when her bird dies. According to Trites, Miyax realizes that she lives in a wrong environment and is vulnerable without the others, with whom she could create a community. Thus, she decides to stay with her father.  Trites explains that such decision is “typical of early feminist novels; the strong, individualistic female who is aware of the life cycle must return to live within a patriarchal world because she knows no better way”. Thus, both Miyax and Karana voluntarily choose to live in the patriarchal world after being independent.

Thus, in spite of being rescued by male characters at the end of the novels, Karana and Miyax embody feminist ideals by resisting the rules of patriarchal society, developing their identities, questioning gender roles and performing traditionally male tasks. Both characters break the stereotype of weak and dependent on men women. Karana and Miyax demonstrate that they can protect and stand for themselves in the most diffivult situations. Moreover, they show that they can provide themselves with food and shelter. Even though Karana and Miyax demonstrate their ability to be completely independent, they choose to return to living in the patriarchal society. Despite the characters’ rescue at the end of the novels, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolf are the feminist Robinson Crusoe-like stories of independence, self-realization, and power of women to overcome any obstacles.

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