Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cole goes to his totem pole the next morning to carve something to symbolize his anger. He understands that no one chooses to be angry—if Cole is angry, some outside force controls him and he doesn’t like that idea. He wants to carve something that shows he’s sorry and knows how to forgive, but he can’t think of anything. When Edwin visits, Cole announces that he danced the dance of anger. Cole tells Edwin that he forgiving gives him control. When Edwin asks what Cole carved in the totem, Cole murmurs that he knows he needs to help Peter in order to carve something. Edwin says this is what Cole needed to learn before he could heal, and the question of how to help Peter will haunt Cole forever. If Cole can’t help Peter, he needs to help someone else—this is why Edwin and Garvey help Cole.
Cole still wants to be in control, but now, he understands that anger and violence aren’t appropriate ways to gain control. Rather, Cole gets that if he wants to be in control, he needs to be able to make choices with a clear head. Now that Cole has gotten over this hurdle, his relationship with Edwin begins to change somewhat. Edwin is still an all-knowing elder, but he and Cole speak more as equals. This suggests that as Cole continues to reevaluate how he carries himself, he’ll be able to form more meaningful, trusting, and egalitarian relationships with his friends and mentors.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Throughout the summer, Edwin visits infrequently and never stays long. He acts as though something bothers him. Though he checks Cole’s totem pole, Edwin focuses on the blank spot for Cole’s anger carving. In September, as the salmon head upstream, Cole watches them during his morning soak. He stops seeing the Spirit Bear and figures it’s hibernating. Despite the cold, Cole continues to visit the pond, though he only soaks for a few minutes. When he’s in his cabin, he stuffs moss and cloth in the cracks. The cold makes it hard to carve, and the rain never stops.
Now that Cole has been able to set his anger aside, he’s able to pay more attention to the natural world around him. He can mark the seasons not just by the weather, but by what the animals do. He can also take their examples to heart—he spends more time in the cabin now, making it warmer, in a similar way that the Spirit Bear sleeps in its den.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cole eventually stops performing his morning ritual when it becomes too dangerous to hike with the ancestor rock. Though he stays busy, Cole has more time to think about his loneliness. He thinks about his parents, Garvey, and Peter—who, according to Edwin, is growing more depressed. Cole’s anger returns more often, though he tries to quell it by remembering how he touched the Spirit Bear. He’s still afraid what will happen when he returns to Minneapolis and won’t have these rituals. Christmas is uneventful: Cole finds a small, deformed pine tree and decorates it. He spends Christmas wondering if anyone misses him and later tells Edwin that Christmas was lonely. Edwin warns Cole to not wallow in self-pity and shares that Peter now refuses to get out of bed. This thought haunts Cole.
Because Cole is more at home in the natural world and is more respectful of it, he pays attention to the signs that things are too dangerous. This stands in stark contrast to how Cole went right into the freezing, stormy ocean to escape last time—something that, if Cole were to look back on it now, would look misguided and dangerous. Cole also recognizes that he’ll need to come up with rituals of his own if he’s going to be successful in Minneapolis. Even though he might not have an Alaskan island there, he can still do something to clear his mind and find calm.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Near the end of March, Edwin arrives and acts like something is wrong. Cole helps carries supplies to the cabin and makes them cocoa. Edwin finally shares that Garvey called: Peter tried to commit suicide. Cole is shocked, but Edwin isn’t surprised—he suggests that Peter now believes his life is worthless, since that’s how Cole treated him. Cole argues that Peter’s life isn’t worthless, but Edwin snaps that Cole implied that when he beat Peter. Edwin grabs his coat and heads for the bay. Cole chases after and insists he’s sorry, but Edwin says that doesn’t help Peter. Edwin ignores Cole’s insistence that he knows how to help Peter. Cole watches him go and thinks that if Peter came to the island, he’d start to understand. He’s sure Peter is afraid—which means he needs to be here.
Despite how far Cole has come since the beginning of the novel, the way he responds to news of Peter’s suicide suggests that he’s not entirely willing to take responsibility for his actions. As far as he’s concerned, he should be praised for having made as much progress as he has—but Edwin insists that Cole isn’t done until he’s come up with a way to help Peter. Edwin’s unwillingness to listen to Cole’s plan shows that even adults who have learned to manage their anger still struggle. If Edwin is any example, Cole will have to work on this his entire life.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Cole returns to his cabin and thinks about Peter’s suicide attempt. He understands that Peter’s parents would never actually let Peter come to the island, especially with Cole here. Cole remembers how scared he was when he almost died. He wonders how scared Peter must’ve been to try to die. After a fitful night, Cole wakes before sunrise and notices a warm breeze. He visits the pond for the first time in months, and though he knows it’ll be freezing, he needs to calm his mind. Up until he learned about Peter’s suicide attempt, Cole’s life has been boring. Now, he’s confused. The water is so icy that Cole doesn’t have time to empty his mind. He carries the ancestor rock and then hears the buzz of Edwin’s boat engine.
Now that Cole believes all lives have worth and meaning, it’s unthinkable that any person would try to take their own life. However, he also recognizes that Peter is afraid and is therefore in need of help. It’s commendable that as Cole works through these questions, he returns to his rituals. He understands that he needs the structure of the pond and his hike in order to process his emotions and deal with the anger that’s surely lurking under the surface.
Themes
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole races back to camp as fast as he can, slipping in the stream. He finds Edwin sitting in the cabin. Edwin tells Cole to put dry clothes on and then says that Peter tried again to commit suicide. He wants to hear how Cole can help Peter.
Even adults are capable of messing up—but, like Cole, they can show they’re sorry with their actions and behave in ways that convey respect and kindness.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon