Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cole looks at the boxes filled with supplies—food, rain gear, and even schoolwork. A few weeks ago, Edwin built a one-room shelter on the island for Cole. He described it as a healing place, but Cole resents it and the supplies. His dad paid for it all, and this is just another buyout. Cole twists his handcuffs again, thinking that he’s not afraid of pain or anything else. He’s going to play along just until he can escape.
The very fact that Cole has to remind himself that he’s not afraid of anything suggests that he is very much afraid—his anger is a way to keep him from wavering and admitting that he’s nervous about staying on the island alone. Insisting that this is a buyout from his dad shows that Cole feels forgotten and unloved by the very person who’s supposed to care for him.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Back in Minneapolis, Circle Justice had seemed like a joke. Garvey told Cole to plead guilty and assured him that he can withdraw it at any time. Cole doesn’t trust Garvey, so he told Garvey that he’ll be sorry if he’s lying. Garvey acted shocked that Cole thinks that he can only trust Garvey if Garvey is afraid of him. Back in the present, Edwin guides the boat to a bay. Cole spots the shelter and thinks that Garvey and Edwin are crazy to think he’s going to live here. Once they reach the shore, Garvey and Edwin unload all the supplies, and Edwin motions for Cole to follow him. Cole follows slowly. When Edwin stops, he tells Cole that he’s on his own here—the land can help him or kill him. When Cole boasts that he’s not afraid of dying, Edwin just smiles.
It’s unclear what Cole expects to do to Garvey to get back at him, which makes his front even easier to see through. He’s merely trying to be intimidating to cover up his own insecurities. On the island, Cole purposefully walks slowly as he follows Edwin so that he can continue to feel powerful—he wants to make Edwin do things on Cole’s timeline. What Edwin proposes is that Cole figure out how to live with the land and see it as the helper it can be—but Cole’s insistence that he’s not afraid of dying suggests that he sees the natural world as something to dominate.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Edwin points out Devil’s Club, a spiny, dangerous plant that will cause infection if touched. He points to the stream where Cole can get water and says it’s so far away because other animals use it for water. He asks how Cole would feel if a bear made a den there, but Cole just shrugs and says he’d kill the bear. Edwin says that animals feel the same way. He reminds Cole that he’s part of a much bigger circle; he’s not the only creature on the island. Edwin says that animals can teach people all sorts of things and mentions that off the coast of British Columbia, there are white black bears called Spirit Bears. These animals have more honor, dignity, and pride than most people. Cole declares he’d kill a Spirit Bear, but Edwin gives the cryptic warning that any action one commits against animals is also committed against oneself.
Through his pep talk, Edwin tries to enlighten Cole to the fact that lots of animals—bears in particular—aren’t going to be frightened of a 15-year-old kid, so he should treat these animals with caution and respect if he encounters them. Having to admit that anything in the world is more powerful than he is isn’t something Cole can accept while still believing in his own superiority, hence his declaration that he’d kill bears. Saying he’d kill a Spirit Bear, though, is also intended as a personal insult to Edwin—knowing that this animal is sacred to Edwin, it’s an attempt to make him afraid and hurt his feelings.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cole insists that Edwin is crazy, but Edwin continues unperturbed. He says that there’s a book on edible plants in the supplies. Edwin be back to visit in a few days, and then he’ll come every few weeks with supplies. Cole smirks, but Edwin says that he was out here as a young person and that it’s a good place to find oneself. Cole says it sucks as Edwin takes off his handcuffs. Edwin snaps that anger will keep Cole lost; he can only find himself if he searches. They head back to the shelter. Garvey offers Cole a small bundle. He says it’s called at.óow: it’s a blanket that’s been handed down in Garvey’s family for generations. Nobody owns it—the person who possesses it is just a caretaker. If Cole accepts, he has to promise to take care of it and pass it on to someone he trusts someday.
It’s telling that Edwin keys in on Cole’s anger as the one thing that will keep him lost. With this, Edwin proposes that if a person is angry all the time, they miss out on opportunities to appreciate the world around them—and, for that matter, to appreciate themselves and what they can do. Garvey’s offering of the at.óow blanket is an attempt to demonstrate for Cole what trust and friendship look like. He’s banking on the possibility that Cole will recognize the significance of this moment and honor his promise, which seems risky given Cole’s behavior.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Cole asks if this means that Garvey trusts him. Garvey says that if Cole promises, he’ll believe Cole. Cole accepts the blanket. Garvey tells Cole to not waste his chance, and Cole angrily snaps for Garvey and Edwin to leave. They promptly get back in their boat and head out to sea. Cole waves, but they can’t see his raised middle finger. Then, he hurls rocks into the bay, thinking about the last three months he spent in detention and dealing with Circle Justice. The committee members kept asking why they should believe that Cole wants to change. This annoyed Cole, but he pretended to be penitent and complained to Garvey about it. Garvey explained that they want Cole to show them he’s trustworthy and wants change. People have already paid for Cole’s mistakes.
In dealing with Circle Justice, Cole comes up against the fact that going through the court system is relatively easy. He makes his case—or his dad pays Nathaniel Blackwood to do so—and the judge hands down a sentence. At Circle Justice meetings, however, Cole has to try to show people that he’s actually willing to take responsibility for his actions. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult given that Cole has no genuine interest in taking responsibility. He doesn’t seem to have positive relationships that would make him see the error of others pay for his mistakes.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
In Minneapolis, Garvey told Cole that he had bigger issues than getting out of detention—like finding a sponsor for Circle Justice. Cole thought that Garvey was going to help him, but Garvey announced he doesn’t waste time on losers. Back on the island, Cole begins to cry. He thinks this is no different than being in jail: everyone just wants to get rid of him. Cole’s rage grows. The last time he felt angry like this, he trashed his cell at the detention center and punched the walls until they were bloody. He’d wanted to find someone to pay for his anger. When Garvey arrived a bit later, he turned right around to leave and insisted that Cole blames the world for his problems. Garvey teased Cole about his bloody fists and then left. Presently, Cole’s rage grows. He finds a match and sets his shelter and all his supplies on fire.
Garvey can clearly see through Cole’s façade and knows full well that Cole isn’t taking this seriously. Given that Cole ends up on the island thanks to Circle Justice anyway, it’s likely that Garvey figured that even if he couldn’t get Cole to see the error of his ways, being confronted with the raw power of the natural world would make Cole confront his own weaknesses. Cole’s anger, however, blinds him to the power of nature—burning his shelter is a way of telling the world that no matter what it throws at Cole, he doesn’t need help weathering it.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon