Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Touching Spirit Bear can help.
Circles Symbol Icon

The various circles that Cole notices and encounters throughout the novel symbolize connectedness community, and healing. The organization Circle Justice is the most overt iteration of this: the organization facilitates communication and, hopefully, healing for Cole’s entire community by seeking to rehabilitate Cole rather than throw him in jail for assaulting Peter. On the island, Cole begins to notice circles and cycles after the Spirit Bear mauls him, when he becomes aware of his own helplessness—that is, he becomes aware of his own vulnerable position in the circle of life. As Cole learns his own place in this metaphorical circle, he also begins to see the importance of helping others learn about the importance of connectedness. At the end of the novel, when Cole and Peter carve a circle on Cole’s totem pole, it symbolizes their newfound understanding that they’re a part of each other’s community—and finally, more than a year and a half after Cole beat Peter, that they’ve both healed from the emotional trauma of that incident.

Circles Quotes in Touching Spirit Bear

The Touching Spirit Bear quotes below all refer to the symbol of Circles. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Touching Spirit Bear published in 2002.
Chapter 1  Quotes

“Justice should heal, not punish. If you kill my cat, you need to become more sensitive to animals. You and I need to be friends, and I need to forgive you to get over my anger. That’s Circle Justice. Everybody is a part of the healing, including people from the community—anybody who cares. But healing is much harder than standard punishment. Healing requires taking responsibility for your actions.”

Related Characters: Garvey (speaker), Cole Matthews
Related Symbols: Circles
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Other animals come here for water, too,” Edwin said. “How would you feel if a bear made its den beside the stream?”

Cole shrugged. “I’d kill it.”

The potbellied elder nodded with a knowing smile. “Animals feel the same way. Don’t forget that.” [...] “You aren’t the only creature here. You’re part of a much bigger circle. Learn your place or you’ll have a rough time.”

Related Characters: Edwin (speaker), Cole Matthews (speaker)
Related Symbols: Circles, Spirit Bear
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“Will Peter be there?”

Garvey shrugged. “It’s up to him. He may not be ready to forgive you.”

“I don’t care if he forgives me.”

Garvey rubbed the back of his neck, then glanced up toward the ceiling. “How come everything is always about you? This forgiveness isn’t for you. Unless Peter forgives you, he won’t heal.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Garvey (speaker), Peter Driscal
Related Symbols: Circles
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“If the Driscals realize that the Circle allows them to have a voice in decisions, and that forgiveness can help Peter to heal, they may also join the Circle.”

“You mean they might help decide my sentence?”

Garvey nodded. “Maybe.”

“They’ll hang me,” Cole said. “I’m dead.”

“I think you’ve already hung yourself,” Garvey answered.

Related Characters: Garvey (speaker), Cole Matthews (speaker), Peter Driscal, Mr. Driscal, Mrs. Driscal
Related Symbols: Circles
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Cole’s gaze wandered in a big circle around him. All of the landscape, the air, the trees, the animals, the water, the rain, all seemed to be part of something bigger. They moved in harmony, bending and flowing, twisting and breathing, as if connected. But Cole felt alone and apart. His soaked clothes chilled his bones. The hard ground pushed at his wounded body like a big hand shoving him away.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews, Edwin
Related Symbols: Circles, Spirit Bear
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

“I did care about you. But helping others is how I help myself.”

“You need help?” Cole asked, surprised.

Garvey nodded. “I see a lot of myself in you. When I was your age, I spent five long years in prison for things I’ll go to my grave regretting. I lived my early years here in Drake, but no one cared enough to take me through Circle Justice.” He shook his head with a sad smile. “Take my word for it, jail scars the soul. And I was never able to help those I hurt.”

Related Characters: Garvey (speaker), Cole Matthews (speaker), Cole’s Dad, Peter Driscal
Related Symbols: Circles
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

Cole fought back his own tears. “I’m part of some big circle that I don’t understand. And so are you. Life, death, good and bad, everything is part of that circle. When I hurt you, I hurt myself, too. I don’t think I’ll ever heal from what I did to you, but I’m sorry, Peter. I really am sorry.”

Related Characters: Cole Matthews (speaker), Peter Driscal
Related Symbols: Circles
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF

Circles Symbol Timeline in Touching Spirit Bear

The timeline below shows where the symbol Circles appears in Touching Spirit Bear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...chance. It doesn’t really matter now, though. He doesn’t plan to honor his contract with Circle Justice; he’s not staying on the island. (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
...doesn’t understand what Garvey wants. One day, Garvey asks if Cole would consider applying for Circle Justice, a healing form of justice used by native cultures. He explains that normally, if... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...needs to take responsibility for their actions. As soon as Garvey mentions that participating in Circle Justice might reduce Cole’s jail sentence, Cole puts on an innocent voice and says he’s... (full context)
Chapter 2
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Back in Minneapolis, Circle Justice had seemed like a joke. Garvey told Cole to plead guilty and assured him... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 3
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...his breath. He’s outside the bay now and angles for the island, still thinking about Circle Justice. Back in Minneapolis, Garvey explained that all the meetings Circle Justice holds are circles... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...hands for a prayer. Cole catches Peter staring at him and glares threateningly. When the Circle sits down, the Keeper explains that they’re not here to win or lose—Circle Justice is... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that they must make both Peter and Cole well. As the feather moves around the circle, people introduce themselves. Cole’s mom nearly cries as she introduces herself. When Cole gets the... (full context)
Chapter 5
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...someday. He especially wants to get revenge against Peter’s lawyer, who insisted at the Healing Circle that Cole was dangerous and untrustworthy. Other people echoed her, and then Cole’s dad said... (full context)
Chapter 6
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature 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... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...hand points the wrong direction. His legs don’t work either. He looks around in a circle and sees that everything else seems to be part of something bigger. Cole feels alone... (full context)
Chapter 9
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...live or die. He remembers that Garvey and Edwin had both said something about a circle, but he can’t remember what. Cole looks around for the Spirit Bear and then remembers... (full context)
Chapter 10
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...it’s awful that maggots will eat the bodies, he also thinks that this is the cycle Edwin talked about. Cole knows that dying is part of living and knows that he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 13
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...he spent five years in prison since there was no one to take him through Circle Justice. Rosey tells Cole that his body will heal, but he can only heal his... (full context)
Chapter 14
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Lots of people from the Circle visited Cole during his hospitalization. His mom came often and assured Cole that she loves... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
The next afternoon, Garvey shares that the Justice Circle will meet with Cole again—but they’ll probably send his case back to the courts. This... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
A week later, Garvey announces that the Justice Circle meets the next night. Both of Cole’s parents know about the meeting, and Garvey has... (full context)
Chapter 15
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Nervously, Cole tells the Circle that he was mad and didn’t understand that they were trying to help him. He... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...asks Cole if he saw a Spirit Bear. Cole realizes that if he lies, the Circle will believe him. If he tells the truth, they’ll think he’s a liar. Cole says... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
...anger away. No matter how much he does, though, his right arm remains weak. The Circle continues meeting without Cole and Edwin stays in Minneapolis to attend them. Edwin stops by... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...lost cause and is going to jail. Garvey and Edwin reveal that they’ve convinced the Circle to let Cole go back to the island. (full context)
Chapter 28
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Fighting back his own tears, Cole insists that they’re both part of a big circle of life and death. Cole understands now that he hurt himself when he hurt Peter... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...totem pole. Several hours later, Cole yells for Garvey to come look at their perfect circle. Smiling, Garvey asks if they carved a circle because circles are beginnings and ends, but... (full context)