Touching Spirit Bear


Ben Mikaelsen

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Themes and Colors
Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Justice and Responsibility Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Touching Spirit Bear, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Fear, Power, and Cycles of Violence

Touching Spirit Bear introduces readers to 15-year-old Cole Matthews. To say that Cole is troubled is an understatement. When readers meet him, he’s being sentenced for beating up a classmate, Peter Driscal, so violently that Peter will suffer permanent physical, mental, and emotional damage—and this is only the most recent (though the most violent) crime that Cole has committed in the last several years. At first, it seems as though Cole is angry…

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Cole is thrilled when his parole officer, Garvey, and Edwin, the Tlingit man who facilitates Cole’s banishment on a remote Alaskan island, pull strings to allow Cole to serve his sentence on the island rather than go to jail for assaulting a classmate named Peter. At the beginning of Cole’s second attempt at banishment, Edwin goes to great lengths to try to introduce rituals and a form of spirituality that, in Edwin’s…

read analysis of Ritual

Man vs. Nature

In an attempt to escape going to jail for assaulting a classmate named Peter, 15-year-old offender Cole Matthews agrees to undergo a yearlong banishment on a remote Alaskan island through the program Circle Justice. Cole undergoes two stints on the island. The first is a disaster: he angrily burns his provided shelter and tries to swim away, and a white American black bear known as a Spirit Bear mauls him when he attempts to…

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Justice and Responsibility

Fifteen-year-old Cole wants nothing more than to avoid going to jail—which is why, after brutally beating up his classmate Peter Driscal, he initially acts penitent and agrees to sign up for an alternative correctional program called Circle Justice. As Cole sees it, Circle Justice may make him do “stupid” things like pretend to be sorry in front of his community, but Cole is a skilled actor and knows he can play the part. Things…

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