Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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Touching Spirit Bear: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cole puts on his damp clothes and laughs about people’s reactions when he called his dad a liar at the Circle Justice meeting. Cole’s dad sputters, turns red, and tries to deny that he hits Cole. Though the Keeper tries to step in, Cole shouts that his dad is lying. Nathaniel Blackwood pulls Cole’s dad down, and the Keeper confiscates the feather. She hands it to Cole, who shakily says that his parents don’t care about him—he doesn’t think his dad even knows when his birthday is. Cole then asks his mom to talk about how Cole’s dad beats him, but his mom just glances at Cole’s dad and passes the feather without speaking.
Though Cole’s mom’s choice to pass on the feather may look like a betrayal to Cole, it’s an indicator that she’s probably terrified of her ex-husband—and like Cole, she may be a victim of his abuse. But because Cole is so caught up in playing the victim, he’s not open to feeling compassion for his mom. This makes the family situation even more complicated, as even if Cole’s mom is afraid, she still failed to protect her child—and Cole clearly holds this against her.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Garvey takes the feather and asks the group what caused Cole’s anger—and what they might have done had they grown up in Cole’s situation. Garvey admits that he doesn’t know how to heal deep emotional and physical damage, and he says that Cole isn’t the only problem. Rather, Cole is a symptom of a community and a family that are broken—they’re all guilty. He stares at Cole’s dad as he says this. Peter’s lawyer is the next to speak: she insists that Cole must go to jail for the safety of the community. Mrs. Driscal speaks next and says that Peter has speech problems, coordination problems, and nightmares as a result of the beating. Because of this, Cole deserves to go to jail. Cole slouches in his chair—this is getting old.
By asking others in the Circle to imagine themselves in Cole’s shoes, Garvey tries to spark empathy in everyone in attendance. Suffering abuse, he suggests, is uniquely traumatizing, and they can’t just write Cole off as a coldhearted criminal because he, too, is a victim. For Mrs. Driscal, however, it’s easier to look at Cole just as the person who took away the son she knew and to ignore the fact that Cole is hurting too.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Peter gets the feather and holds it for a long time. When prompted, he slurs that someone should hit Cole’s head against the sidewalk so that he can learn what it feels like. The Keeper takes the feather after this and ends the Healing Circle with a prayer. Cole refuses to hold either of his parents’ hands. The guard comes in to put handcuffs on Cole, but before he leaves, Garvey stops and notes that Cole isn’t buying any of the Circle Justice stuff. When Cole asks whose side Garvey is on, Cole’s dad says that this isn’t about sides. Garvey agrees with him, but then he asks when Cole’s birthday is. Cole’s dad gulps, flushes, and leaves.
Peter is understandably angry about what Cole did to him. He’s also clearly suffering in a variety of ways—including from anger, which causes him to suggest that Cole needs to suffer pain. This anger is surprisingly similar to the anger Cole feels, which suggests that it’s not helpful for Peter to feel this way. In other words, anger might be understandable, but it’s still inappropriate and unproductive to wish violence on others. Now, Peter is caught up in the cycle of violence, just like Cole is.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Back in the present, on the island, Cole gets angry just thinking about Circle Justice meetings. He hikes to the stream for a drink and wonders how the Spirit Bear can move so quietly through the tangled forest. Then, he returns to the ashes and coaxes a fire to life. The weather is beautiful, but Cole remembers Garvey saying that this spot gets a lot of rain. Cole thinks this is silly. He studies the tide and jumps when he hears a noise, thinking it’s the Spirit Bear. But it’s just birds, and Cole reminds himself that the bear should be afraid of him, not the other way around. Cole watches the tides and decides it’d be best to leave tomorrow—he doesn’t want to swim at night. He wishes he could see Edwin and Garvey’s faces when they find him gone.
Simply being curious about how the Spirit Bear moves through the woods again suggests that Cole has the potential to change—and on some level, he recognizes that the natural world has all sorts of things to teach him. Note that Cole’s behavior and what he tells himself are at odds; he’s clearly afraid, but he knows that showing vulnerability will break his act of being all-powerful. Having to keep up this act, however, means that Cole feels compelled to behave recklessly—like swimming in the freezing cold ocean.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Cole also wishes he could see his dad’s reaction, as he knows that his dad hates that he can’t fix Cole with a lawsuit or a drink. In his dad’s opinion, the only thing to do is hit Cole harder. Cole remembers that once, his dad hit him with his belt until Cole’s skin was raw and then turned the belt around to use the buckle end. Cole screamed and screamed. That night, for the first time, his mom said something, but she ran away when Cole’s dad threatened to hit her too.
This memory confirms that the horrible abuse that Cole suffers at home—it’s no wonder he feels the way he does, given how heartless his dad seems. This also confirms that Cole’s mom is likely a victim as well, and that Cole acts out so he can get a sense of control. At home, he feels utterly out of control, alone, and neglected.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
It’s all Garvey’s fault that Cole is on the island in the first place. After the fifth Circle meeting, Cole asked why nobody believed he’d changed. Peter’s lawyer points out that Cole is a liar and sarcastically says that they can’t ship him to the Arctic Circle where he can’t hurt anyone—but Garvey suggests they look into banishing Cole in Southeast Alaska. He explains that Cole would be alone to think for about a year, and then the Circle could reevaluate and decide whether to sentence Cole. Cole insists that he’s fine living outside, but he’s privately worried. After the meeting, Garvey tells Cole that banishment is harder than jail. He says he supports banishment because Cole won’t change if he goes to jail. He also tells Cole that island life is hard—it’s impossible to manipulate the natural world or to ignore one’s hunger.
Even though Peter’s lawyer participating in the Circle, it seems as though she isn’t taking the program seriously. This suggests that everyone has something to learn when it comes to managing anger and getting justice. This passage is also significant because it marks the beginning of Cole’s desire to dominate the natural world—he needed to act tough about living in the wild in order to get out of going to jail. This suggests that Cole is naïve about what’s in store for him in Alaska; in jail, he’d at least be warm and fed.
Themes
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon