What Do Islands Symbolize? (In Books, Films, Dreams)

What Do Islands Symbolize

Islands have a long history of being used in literature and film as a symbol of isolation, transformation, and internal resilience.

In dreams, an island can be symbolic of loneliness and conflict but also of independence and perseverance.

Many books and films that feature islands also tell the stories of those trying to escape them and often times the island can have both a positive and negative symbolism. Because it has such broad interpretation, it is a popular trope in storytelling.

Island Symbolism

1. Isolation and Self-Reliance


Many stories use the island as a symbol of being alone and left to one’s own devices.

Living on an island in stories is frequently preceded by a shipwreck, plane crash, or another unfortunate event that has set the life of the character off course.

This is evident, for example, in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or the Tom Hanks film it inspired almost three centuries later, Cast Away.

In such stories, the island is a symbol of what the main character has lost – contact with the outside world, the relationships with loved ones, and even the sense of belonging.

However, it also becomes a symbol of survival and courage.

Faced with fighting both external circumstances and internal demons on the island, the main hero realizes they are stronger than they have previously known.

2. Transformation


The island in films and books is sometimes the moving force behind a significant change in the life of the protagonist.

Sometimes this change is quite literal and as simple as finally succeeding to leave the island. The escape can be connected to a greater appreciation of the past life or the inability to find what has been left at the beginning of the journey.

Other times, it has nothing to do with the literal interpretation and is not necessarily positive either.

Books like Lord of the Flies and films such as Shutter Island are just two examples where the main characters go through a metamorphosis that doesn’t change their lives for the better.

3. Hidden Treasures


An island can be interpreted to be a symbol of hidden treasures waiting to be found by the brave and cunning enough.

For many people, the first associations that come to mind when thinking of an island of pristine sunny beaches, serenity, and wildness.

Probably Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is one of the books that set forth this image.

Often the beauty of the beach is used to hide the danger that waits on the way to the treasure. This is evident, for example, in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, where the heroes are always looking for a treasure and constantly end up on different islands in search of defense of it.

The Clashing Symbolism of Islands

Depending on the context, an island can symbolize either freedom or imprisonment. This is not the only set of interpretations that have the complete opposite meaning.

On the one hand, the island can be viewed as a clean slate, a chance to escape the boundaries and the previously set rules. On the other, it can be symbolic of a prison with a chance of no escape.

It is not a coincidence that many prisons in books and films are actually located on an island – consider Azkaban from the Harry Potter series.

Because islands are isolated, they are considered unspoiled by humankind and can represent utopia and a chance to build a better life than the one left behind.

At the same time, one usually ends up on them alone, which is why they can be symbolic of strange and terrifying dangers.

What does it Mean when you Dream of an Island?

1. Loneliness and Stranded Relationships


A dream about an island can be symbolic of alienation from a loved one, especially if you are by yourself on a deserted island.

If you are single or have neglected those you love for some time, your dream is most likely an expression of your solitude in real life.

If in your dream the island is rocky, it is possible that on some level you feel underappreciated and misunderstood.

Your dream can also signify that you are not getting the best of your relationships. Think about whether there is a loved one with whom you feel tensions and conflict rising.

Keep in mind that it is also possible you are the one who has neglected a close friend or your partner and that you may need to pay more attention to their feelings.

2. Expectations that are Too High


Islands can symbolize that you are feeling overwhelmed and that you need some time to recharge.

Your job is too stressful and there are too many people counting on you in your personal live as well.

You often find yourself daydreaming about escaping and going somewhere without as many responsibilities.

If you recognize yourself in any of the above, dreaming of an island can be the manifestation of your subconscious telling you that you need a break.

Pay attention to your own expectations of yourself. It is possible that you are your worst critic and set unnecessarily high goals that are causing you to feel drained.

3. Ability to Adapt


If you don’t seem to appear worried in your dream of being on a deserted island, this is a symbol of your confidence and belief in yourself.

Dreaming of being stranded alone can mean that you like to rely on yourself and have the ability to fight and overcome unexpected challenges.

It is possible that your dream symbolizes your desire to have more freedom and be independent of outside influences or opinions, especially if there is someone making you feel suffocated and restricted. 

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Islands have long been a source of inspiration for many literary and film writers because of the wide room for interpretation they carry. Depending on the story, an island can be a beacon of hope or a source of trepidation.

Much in the same way, to dream of an island is very often connected to a real event in your life coming to the surface. To decipher your dream properly, you should be prepared for a careful internal analysis.