Touching Spirit Bear


Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Cole stares at the fire; it doesn’t make him happy. He notices eagles and a mother seal and her pups, and then he announces aloud that the island sucks. Nobody cares—nobody understands what it’s like to live with parents who don’t want him to live. Garvey is one of the worst offenders—Cole remembers when Garvey showed up at the detention center one day and asked what Cole didn’t like about his life. Cole spat that his parents hate him; they drink and never came to his sporting events. When Garvey expressed sympathy, Cole cracked and shouted that his dad hits him until he’s numb while his mom does nothing. Garvey then pulled out baking ingredients and asked Cole to taste them. Cole did. Then, Garvey offered Cole a cake made from the same ingredients. Cole refused to see the point and threw the cake after Garvey left.
The observation that lighting the fire doesn’t make Cole happy is an early indicator that acts of violence—including beating Peter—don’t make a person feel better. However, Cole provides more background on why he acts the way he does when he shares with Garvey that he feels abandoned by his parents, and that his dad hits him. The very people who should love and protect Cole have made his world a terrifying place, and so Cole tries to gain power wherever he can. This is also why he refuses to see the point of Garvey’s cake demonstration, which is to show Cole that he can choose to make something positive out of his life (like the cake), even if certain parts of it (like eating raw flour on its own) aren’t particularly pleasant.
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Cole laughs hysterically as everything burns. His laughter seems to mock everyone who has ever bullied him and hurt him. He thinks that all the ingredients in his cake are awful; banishment feels even worse than his dad’s abuse or his mom ignoring him. Cole only looks away and stops laughing when the fire starts to slow down. He notices the at.óow is unharmed and flings it toward the fire before heading for the shore. No one except Cole’s dad knows how good of a swimmer he is. Cole strips to his underwear and plots his path to the next island: his plan is to catch a ride on a boat and then disappear on the mainland. He wades into the water and swims hard.
What makes Cole the angriest is his feeling that his parents want him. Nobody wants him—and this sense of loneliness and distrust makes it seem acceptable to beat people up, steal, and destroy his shelter and supplies on the island. However, since Cole’s dad is the one responsible for Cole’s swimming abilities, it suggests that Cole’s swimming might not get him very far, given how unhelpful Cole’s dad has been in every other way.
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As Cole swims, he thinks about Garvey’s “stupid cake demonstration” and his application to Circle Justice. When Cole’s application was accepted, Garvey explained that Keepers needed to prepare the Hearing Circle, which allows everyone to discuss solutions. Anyone could come—there could be classmates, lawyers, and Cole’s parents. Cole scoffed that his parents don’t care and then asked if Peter would be there. Garvey shrugged and noted that Peter might not be ready to forgive. Cole insisted he didn’t care if Peter forgave him, which made Garvey ask why everything is about Cole. Forgiveness, Garvey suggested, isn’t for Cole—it’s for Peter’s healing.
Cole still thinks about the cake demonstration because it likely made an impression on him—even if he writes it off as “stupid” at this point. This offers hope that in the future, Cole will be able to bring together everything he’s learned and reevaluate his poor behavior. Cole doesn’t understand that healing is about Peter because in his mind, everything is about himself. He doesn’t yet take other people’s experiences seriously, which means that he’s unable to take Circle Justice seriously.
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