In this essay, the student should choose three prominent symbols (including, among many, the Spirit Bear, the seagull, the bird nest, the thunderstorm, the wolf, the beaver, the freezing pond, the ancestor rock, etc.) and explain their symbolism. The key to a good response is first to explain the symbolic message held behind each one. Cole often explicitly states this explanation in the text. However, the best answers will link the three symbols together and show how they evolved in meaning over time to Cole, demonstrating a deeper level of analysis.
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Nature is a pervasive theme in Touching Spirit Bear. The wilderness island setting for Cole's banishment and the Indian traditions surrounding the place demonstrate the centrality of nature to understanding the environment, culture, and personal healing. Almost every chapter includes mention of a different animal, which either teaches Cole a lesson or is offered a symbol of greater hidden truths.
The author wants the reader to believe that nature indeed can reveal these hidden truths, and so the beaver becomes a symbol for patients and perseverance, the eagle becomes a symbol of strength and freedom, and the whale becomes a symbol of wandering and search for truth.
Most important, of course, is the presence of the Spirit Bear as a symbol of nature's justice. When Cole is mauled by the Spirit Bear after trying to attack it, his pride and his resistance to change are crushed and overwhelmed. He is incredibly humbled by this force of nature, and it is through this transformational process that he is able to heal and find a new path for his life.