Touching Spirit Bear

by

Ben Mikaelsen

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

Spirit Bear Symbol Analysis

Spirit Bear Symbol Icon

The Spirit Bear that lives on the Alaskan island where Cole is sent symbolizes the power, beauty, and danger of the natural world—as well as Cole’s changing relationship to the natural world. At first, Cole sees the bear as a threat to his sense of power and control. This is why, when the opportunity presents itself, Cole attempts to attack and kill the Spirit Bear: in order to maintain his image of himself as the most powerful force in his world, Cole must destroy the one thing that seems unafraid of him. The Spirit Bear, however, has no trouble impressing upon Cole the power of nature when it turns the tables and nearly kills him. Following the attack, Cole must reckon with the fact that next to the natural world—which, he begins to see, includes the weather and the ocean, not just the bear that almost killed him—he’s powerless. Ultimately, this culminates in Cole’s shift to see the natural world as something to learn from and respect. Thus, when Cole empties his mind and takes the time to immerse himself fully in the world around him during his second stint on the island, the Spirit Bear often appears. As such, the animal comes to signify Cole’s oneness with nature.

Spirit Bear Quotes in Touching Spirit Bear

The Touching Spirit Bear quotes below all refer to the symbol of Spirit Bear. 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 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 8 Quotes

Cole tried to gather his wits. The mauling didn’t make sense. In the past, everything had always been afraid of him. Why wasn’t the bear scared? A bear with half a brain would have turned tail and run. Instead, this dumb animal had attacked. Now it wandered out in the woods somewhere, the mauling little more than an inconvenience to its morning.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews
Related Symbols: Spirit Bear
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Wincing, he wiped at his mouth with his left hand, then stared at the glistening red on his knuckles. It reminded him of the bear’s blood on the knife blade beside him. It also looked like the blood he had seen on the sidewalk after beating up Peter. The blood looked identical. This thought drifted about in his head but failed to gain meaning. Blood might look the same, but Peter was a loser and a jerk.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews, Peter Driscal
Related Symbols: Spirit Bear
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

As Cole stared at the tiny bodies, sadness flooded through him. The sparrows were so frail, helpless, and innocent. They hadn’t deserved to die. Then again, what right did they have to live? This haunted Cole. Did the birds’ insignificant little existences have any meaning at all? Or did his?

Related Characters: Cole Matthews
Related Symbols: Spirit Bear
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Frantic, Cole struggled to fly, but he couldn’t escape the nest. All he could do was open his beak wide and raise it upward toward the sky, the action a simple admission that he was powerless. There were no conditions, no vices, no lies, no deceit, no manipulation. Only submission and a simple desire to live. He wanted to live, but for that he needed help; otherwise his life would end in the nest.

Related Characters: Cole Matthews, Garvey, Edwin
Related Symbols: Spirit Bear
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Touching Spirit Bear LitChart as a printable PDF.
Touching Spirit Bear PDF

Spirit Bear Symbol Timeline in Touching Spirit Bear

The timeline below shows where the symbol Spirit Bear appears in Touching Spirit Bear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...and mentions that off the coast of British Columbia, there are white black bears called Spirit Bears . These animals have more honor, dignity, and pride than most people. Cole declares he’d... (full context)
Chapter 5
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...body is scraped and bleeding. About a quarter mile away, Cole notices a white bear—a Spirit Bear . They’re not supposed to live here. It stares at him. Cole thinks it has... (full context)
Chapter 6
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 7
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...flames. Cole closes his eyes to gather his thoughts, and when he opens them, the Spirit Bear stares back from 100 yards away. Enraged, Cole threatens to kill the bear and carefully... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
When Cole looks up, the Spirit Bear is standing at the bay, staring straight at Cole. Cole grabs his spear and his... (full context)
Chapter 8
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Ten feet from the Spirit Bear , Cole flings the spear. The bear swats it away and then leaps, knocking Cole... (full context)
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...arrive. He’s not sure what will happen when he dies, and he wonders if the Spirit Bear or the seagulls will return to eat him before he passes away. Cole has had... (full context)
Chapter 9
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...the middle of the night to thunder and lightning. When lightning flashes, Cole sees the Spirit Bear about 50 feet away. He’s terrified, but when lightning flashes again, the animal is gone.... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...said something about a circle, but he can’t remember what. Cole looks around for the Spirit Bear and then remembers the baby birds—their nest was in the fallen tree. He weakly calls... (full context)
Chapter 11
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...with her pups. He snags two more worms and then hears a twig break. The Spirit Bear is about 20 feet away. It stands stock-still, and Cole stares at it, too afraid... (full context)
Chapter 12
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
As the Spirit Bear approaches Cole’s saliva, Cole wonders if he’s strong enough to put up any defense. The... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...up. He can smell a harsh animal smell and opens his eyes to find the Spirit Bear standing over him, staring into his face. Cole is surprised to realize he’s not terrified—he... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
The Spirit Bear wades right into the water and swims away. Cole takes a breath and notices that... (full context)
Chapter 13
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...being angry, but Edwin insists that anger doesn’t disappear—it just lessens. He asks about the Spirit Bear . Cole says that the last time it came, it stood over him and let... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
...the truth. He tosses the fur in the water but knows he’ll never forget the Spirit Bear . (full context)
Chapter 14
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
...anger—which, as Edwin predicted, isn’t gone. Cole also remembers the baby sparrows and touching the Spirit Bear at night; thinking about the bear makes Cole feel calm. (full context)
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...Cole hangs up the at.óow as a reminder and wonders if he can remember the Spirit Bear ’s gentleness. (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
...ruined his chance, and he vows to go back to the island to see the Spirit Bear someday. Garvey isn’t convinced that Cole saw a Spirit Bear and is incredulous when Cole... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...when she told his story—she doesn’t know about the baby birds, his loneliness, or the Spirit Bear . Edwin walks in and joins the circle. Then, the Keeper asks Cole to explain... (full context)
Chapter 15
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...Cole’s claim that he saw a white bear. Edwin asks Cole if he saw a Spirit Bear . Cole realizes that if he lies, the Circle will believe him. If he tells... (full context)
Chapter 16
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole shudders as the island comes into view. He wonders if the Spirit Bear is out there. Over the last month, Cole sold all his sports gear to purchase... (full context)
Chapter 17
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...fire tomorrow. Cole lies awake long after Edwin and Garvey fall asleep, thinking of the Spirit Bear : he wonders if it’s angry or curious. He also thinks about his parents, wondering... (full context)
Chapter 20
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 21
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the pond and carries the ancestor rock up the hill. Though he looks for the Spirit Bear , he doesn’t see it. (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
When Edwin visits next, Cole asks why he hasn’t seen the Spirit Bear . Edwin suggests that the bear was curious last time, but after Cole’s mauling, Cole... (full context)
Chapter 22
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...but the drizzle continues. Cole busies himself with chores and schoolwork. He looks for the Spirit Bear and tries to dance the dance of anger every night, but he can’t figure out... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...dance the dance of anger. One morning, after his morning ritual, Cole wonders why the Spirit Bear came so close when he was hurt and why the beaver got so close in... (full context)
Chapter 23
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...he’s in a trance—and animals come close until he thinks about hurting them. When the Spirit Bear came to him, Cole had given up all control. Cole is thrilled with his discovery;... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cole blinks, and the Spirit Bear disappears. That night, he builds a huge outdoor fire, cooks his spaghetti ceremonially, and uses... (full context)
Chapter 24
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 25
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...insistence that Peter come to the island. Cole argues that Peter needs to see the Spirit Bear , soak, and carry the ancestor rock. He suggests that Edwin stay with them, but... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
Cole tells everyone his entire story, from the Spirit Bear mauling him to his his return to the island and his discovery of rituals. Cole... (full context)
Chapter 27
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...drink, Cole makes him one anyway. Peter wants to know why they haven’t seen the Spirit Bear yet and insists that the bear isn’t real. Cole admits that he didn’t think it... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...feels enraged, but he calmly asks Peter why he did it. Peter shrugs, insists the Spirit Bear isn’t real, and taunts that Cole can’t beat him up again. Cole suggests that they... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...Cole’s reminder that they shouldn’t compare whose feelings are better. Peter asks again about the Spirit Bear , so Cole tells him about the white fur. He says that he always had... (full context)
Chapter 28
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...sobbing, and Cole puts his arms around Peter. They sit for a while until the Spirit Bear appears about 20 feet away. Cole quietly draws Peter’s attention to it, and Peter stares,... (full context)
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
...they forgave each other and themselves, which allowed them to become invisible and see the Spirit Bear . Cole pulls the at.óow out of his backpack and explains its significance. He says... (full context)