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The concept of the "circle of life" plays a large role throughout the novel, and it is explicitly the message that the author leaves the reader at the end of the book. On the one hand, this theme emphasizes the connectedness of all human beings with each other and with nature. This concept is exemplified by Cole's need to reconcile with Peter, by Garvey and Edwin's desire to help Cole in repentance for their past errors, and by the Spirit Bear's central role and presence on the island.
But this theme is also partly philosophical. When Edwin first takes Cole to the freezing pond, he gives him a stick and says that one side represents anger and one side represents happiness. He asks Cole to break of the angry side, but Cole notices that every time he breaks off the angry side on the left of the stick, another left side appears, and so anger cannot be eliminated. More practically, Cole's own process of healing is not complete until he helps Peter overcome his own problems, which are Cole's fault to begin with.
At the end of the novel, when Cole and Peter carve a circle into the bottom of the totem pole, they recognize that the stick with anger and happiness on each side does not represent the truth. Rather, anger and happiness are connected, and one can channel anger into happiness rather than be consumed by it. In these ways, a connection between people, places, and ideas is developed around the central theme of the "Circle of Life."