Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Cole smears lotion on his blisters, he points across the bay to something. Edwin says it’s a wolf and Garvey announces that they’ll dance the wolf dance later. Cole builds the roof silently. He’s not angry, but he doesn’t want to talk. In the afternoon, he rolls tarpaper over the roof and then lifts galvanized roofing sheets. Edwin and Garvey don’t help, even when Cole shoots them pointed glances. When Cole calls it for the evening, Edwin says that Cole’s last chore on the island will be to tear down his cabin. Cole snaps that he’ll burn it and says he’s going to bed. He refuses to make dinner. Garvey calls that they’ll head back to Minneapolis tomorrow and says, with an edge in his voice, that there’s no room for both Cole and his attitude on the island.
It’s impossible to know whether Edwin and Garvey might have been willing to help Cole had he outright asked for help, but Cole nevertheless learns here that if he doesn’t speak up and admit that he needs assistance, he’s never going to get it. Cole’s expectation that Garvey and Edwin will help him suggests that he still feels entitled to everyone’s time and effort, just because. Garvey, however, makes it clear to Cole that if he’s not going to accept that he made things harder for himself by botching his first attempt at banishment, he won’t get a second chance.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole is certain that Garvey is bluffing, but it’s not worth it to test if he’s right. He stumbles back out of the tent to fix supper, but Garvey says it’s about more than food—Cole still has a chip on his shoulder and wants to do the bare minimum. Cole apologizes, but Garvey insists that Cole needs to apologize to himself. No one speaks as he prepares chicken and serves it nicely. Cole reminds the men that he said he was sorry and begs them to not take him back, but Edwin stands and says they’re done. He insists that Cole’s words don’t mean anything. Tomorrow, Cole will soak alone, carry his ancestors up the hill, and roll his anger down the hill. Then they’ll talk.
The way that Cole behaves suggests that he thinks saying sorry is enough to make up for his rude behavior—but Garvey and Edwin insist that an apology is meaningless. Instead, Cole needs to demonstrate that he’s fully committed to doing what needs to be done to make his second stint on the island successful—and he needs to be grateful that he’s even getting this second chance. In other words, if Cole isn’t willing to put in the work, he won’t have a meaningful experience.
Themes
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Edwin and Garvey head for the tent. When Cole asks about the wolf dance, Garvey tells Cole to do what he usually does and do whatever he wants. Cole trips as he washes dishes and thinks that the men don’t understand what it’s like to be so alone and afraid. He stares at the fire and thinks about the wolf. He knows that wolves aren’t alone—they live in packs, and with a group, they’re successful. Cole crouches and pretends to stalk a moose with his pack. Then, he quietly squirms into his sleeping bag, and Garvey asks what Cole learned. Cole says that he needs help, like a wolf needs its pack. Cole sleeps fitfully, afraid of oversleeping. He drags himself up when there’s enough light to see.
Given that both Edwin and Garvey have firsthand experience as troubled teens who ended up banished and in jail, it’s likely that they do understand what it’s like to be alone and afraid. Because of this, they also understand that Cole must learn the value of leaning on others, asking for help, and accepting what others offer to him. This is the main reason why Cole gets up to soak in the morning—he knows that he must accept Edwin’s help, or Edwin won’t try again.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
As Cole hikes, he wonders if Garvey and Edwin will really take him back to Minneapolis. He’s so lost in his thoughts that he runs into a branch, but he continues on. Cole knows it’d be easy to make up a story, but he knows that Garvey and Edwin won’t accept a lie this morning. He strips and gets into the pond. Cole thinks of how Edwin sat calmly and tries to imitate Edwin’s way of breathing. Eventually, he realizes that if he sits still, his skin feels warm. He notices movement and sees a fish, but it darts away as soon as he thinks of eating it. Cole notices that his breath gets cold and that his body doesn’t hurt. When he gets out, he does so because he’s done. He feels like he learned something, but he doesn’t know what.
Now that Cole understands he’s truly in charge of what happens here, he sees how important it is to tell the truth and do the right thing, even if that’s hard. It’s also telling that Cole tries to imitate how Edwin breathes. That he noticed Edwin’s breathing in the first place suggests that Cole has been paying attention and watching his mentors closely, even if he still lashes out at them sometimes. Seeing the fish helps show Cole that if he’s quiet and respectful, the natural world will trust him and show him amazing things—much like his encounter with the Spirit Bear.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF
Cole locates the ancestor rock. He’s stiff from the cold, but his joints don’t ache. Cole breathes deeply and stretches, curious how Edwin figured all this out. He grabs the rock and hikes up the hill, imagining that each step is a day of his life. When he stumbles, he remembers days that he struggled—but when he looks back, he realizes he’s come a long way since he beat Peter. Cole wonders if he’ll ever escape the consequences and realizes that he doesn’t want to go to jail. At the top of the hill, Cole puts the rock down. He feels like a new person. He allows the rock to become his anger, and he knows he needs to stop blaming others. Cole shoves the rock over the edge, and when it reaches the bottom, he feels light. As he starts back to camp, he spots a large white shape that quickly disappears.
Though there’s never any explanation of where Edwin learned about these rituals, it’s likely that Edwin learned from an older mentor, just as Cole now learns from Edwin. This makes the case that it’s possible for people to engage in cycles of healing and kindness, just as they can also be a part of cycles of violence. Possibly seeing the Spirit Bear drives home for Cole that if he chooses to respect Edwin’s rituals, great things can happen. The Spirit Bear also acts as a reminder of the power of the natural world.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon