Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cole wonders if he really just saw the Spirit Bear. He wonders if he should tell Garvey and Edwin; they might think he’s making it up. Neither of them speaks as Cole joins them by the fire. After a minute, Cole apologizes. He realized this morning that he has to stop blaming others to get over his anger. Garvey asks why this morning is different, and Cole responds that he learned that nobody—him included—is a bad person. People just get scared and sometimes hurt others. He says that he hates what his dad does, but that his dad must be scared and not know how to not be mean. Edwin asks why they should believe Cole. Cole says it doesn’t matter; he’ll be okay even if they go home. He tucks a tarp around the wood and starts work on the cabin.
It’s important that Cole apologizes—and especially that he follows up his apology with actions that demonstrate he’s sorry and wants to take his time on the island seriously. It’s also telling that Cole links violence to fear. In this moment, then, he essentially admits that he’s gone through his entire life terrified—and because he was so afraid, he tried to make others feel the same way. Having figured this out, Cole learns another key to help him break the cycle of violence: if he can conquer his fear and be brave, he won’t feel like he has to hurt people.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cole works hard all day, and by evening, all that’s left is to install the stove. Edwin and Garvey inspect the cabin and tell Cole what else he needs to do before winter; Edwin and Garvey will leave tomorrow. Cole is exhausted, but he fixes a special supper to celebrate Edwin and Garvey’s last night. He even makes biscuits, spreads the at.óow over a plywood table, and lights a candle. When they’re done eating, Cole hands out Snickers bars. Edwin asks what dance they should dance, and Cole suggests the Spirit Bear dance. He hesitatingly says he saw it today after his soak. Edwin asks Cole if he’s afraid to be here with the bear, but Cole replies that what he’s afraid of is being alone. He asks Edwin how he felt when he was here.
Cole’s insistence that he’s more afraid of being on the island alone than sharing territory with the Spirit Bear speaks to how comfortable he’s gotten with nature over the course of the few days he’s spent on the island. Nature isn’t frightening, since Cole accepts that he’s wandering through the animals’ world and knows that they’ll protect themselves. Rather, what frightens Cole is that he’s going to have to spend his time on the island with only himself for company—and he knows that he hasn’t been the best company in the past.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Edwin says he felt painfully lonely at first, but eventually he felt peaceful. When it’s dark, Edwin asks Cole to dance first and offers to keep a rhythm. He finds two chunks of driftwood and hits them together. Cole dances the story of his first time on the island. He gets closer and closer to the fire and then breaks twigs to represent his mauling. He pretends to spit and lick the spit, and then he reaches out like he touched the Spirit Bear. Edwin praises Cole’s dance and hands him the driftwood. Edwin performs his dance by stalking up behind Cole and Garvey until they stop looking at him. Garvey dances by “foraging” for things. Cole smiles and wonders how he ever could’ve hated Garvey. Garvey suddenly starts to prowl, puts a finger to his lips, and then shouts, “Boo!” and leaps at Cole and Edwin.
Asking Edwin about his experience on the island is a way that Cole can demonstrate he trusts Edwin. It’s a way to show interest and care, and to thank Edwin for choosing to spend his time helping Cole. Cole’s willingness to dance a version of what happened to him on the island also shows that he’s learning to trust Garvey and Edwin—be knows he doesn’t have to lie to them about what happened because they will take him seriously no matter what he says. Garvey and Edwin’s dances, meanwhile, make it clear that there are many things bears can teach people besides power and violence.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cole sleeps well, and in the morning, both Edwin and Garvey get up with him. Cole leads the way to the pond, feeling proud, and wades right in. Garvey is shocked by the cold, but he dutifully joins Edwin and Cole on the rocks. Cole ignores his companions, thinking that it’s better when he’s alone. He briefly opens his eyes to see if Edwin is done, but then reminds himself that he’ll leave when he’s ready. When Cole is ready, he gets out, and Edwin and Garvey follow him soon after. Cole makes a joke about letting someone else carry the ancestor rock, but the others don’t laugh. They carry it up the hill, roll away Cole’s anger, and joke as they hike back to camp.
After Cole’s sense that he figured something out yesterday, he no longer needs Edwin to constantly demonstrate how to soak. This offers hope that as Cole’s time on the island unfolds, he’ll be able to live with the isolation and make it a learning opportunity. When Edwin doesn’t gripe about Cole getting out first, it shows that he trusts Cole to make decisions that are right for him.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF
Edwin shows Cole how to install the stove, and then he and Garvey pack up. Garvey gives Cole a hunting knife and says that the knife is like life: it can destroy Cole or help him heal. Garvey suggests that Cole carve to heal. Thoughtfully, Edwin says that there’s one more thing Cole must discover before he can heal, but he won’t say what it is. Edwin starts the boat and promises to be back in a few days. Cole assures Edwin that he’ll be fine. He remembers how angry he felt when Edwin and Garvey left him the first time. Now, he’s just terrified.
By turning the hunting knife into another metaphor about choices and life, Garvey makes the case that if a person pays attention, they can turn nearly anything into a reason to keep going—or a reason to give up. If Cole looks at the knife as life, the natural world as a teacher, and the pond as a way to manage his anger, he’ll be okay.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon