Touching Spirit Bear

Edwin tells Cole they must dance to the powers that surround them. List some of the powers he names, and explain the purpose of dancing to them.


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The importance of animal imagery and dance again appears in these chapters, and they are linked with these traditional Indian practices. Dancing with the natural elements helps bring Cole back into the circle of life. When on the second day, the group sights whales off the island’s shore, Edwin proposes a whale dance that evening. Each person in turn dances around the fire making motions of a breaching whale, and afterwards they are supposed to convey a lesson learned from the dance.

The second day, they see a wolf, and they do a wolf dance, while on the third day after Cole sees a Spirit Bear, they do a Spirit Bear dance. Each of these dances allows Cole to place himself in the spirit of animals in a kind of reverse anthropomorphism. In this sense, Cole is searching for a simpler understanding of the natural world and by consequence, of his own life. Particularly moving is Cole’s Spirit Bear dance in which he reenacts the scene of the mauling from the perspective of the bear. The author uses this clever way to demonstrate how Cole is beginning to understand empathy and forgive instead of holding anger. By placing himself in the skin of his enemy, he accepts the hurt that he felt and the ensuing anger towards the Spirit Bear.