Touching Spirit Bear Summary and Analysis
Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13
Cole is still lying on the ground, having been mauled by the bear, but he begins to become more aware of his surroundings. He sees a nest with sparrows, and a mother sparrow is feeding her children. Cole is angered by this kind of affection shown between mother and offspring, and he feels more alone and uncared for than ever. In the freezing rain, Cole craves the at.óow blanket, but he cannot reach it.
During a nighttime thunderstorm, Cole again sights the Spirit Bear fifty feet away during a flash of lightning. In an instant, the bear disappears, but Cole fears that he will return to kill him. The storm continued to rage without the presence of the bear, and trees are split in two by lightning. The chapter ends with Cole realizing that the tree with the birds have been struck down by lightning, and he shows this first sign of compassion.
Cole continues to struggle for life on the ground following the mauling of the Spirit Bear. Cole’s embarrassment and weakness is further exposed when he cannot hold back his desire to defecate. He soils himself right where he is and has to sit in the midst of his own waste, immobilized. He looks out and sees that two of the sparrows from the tree have died. Cole makes the firm decision to live at this point, and attempts to try to feed himself with the grass around him. He also resorts to eating worms from the ground for sustenance. Mosquitoes swarm over his body, and he even catches a mouse as the chapter closes.
Cole continues to struggle to keep the mouse, and before it is dead, he pulls it to his mouth and starts chewing it until he crushes its skull with its teeth. He then proceeds to eat his own vomit—the fish from several days ago. The Spirit Bear appears once again, and Cole trembles with helplessness. The bear starts again walking towards Cole.
The bear mysteriously stops just short of Cole, and then he turns around and walks off into the distance. At this point, Cole becomes quite delusional and imagines himself as a bird in a nest, struggling to fly. Then, as he comes out of this delirium, he sees the Spirit Bear inches from his head, above him. Instead of trying to spit at him or yell at him, Cole instead decides to rub the bear’s shoulder and white fur coat, grabbing a tuft of white hair and putting it in his pocket. The bear does not attack, and there is a sense of trust between them.
Then, Cole sees the bear walk over to the stream and enter the water to swim away towards the bay. From that moment forward, Cole begins to appreciate the beauty of the scene around him, the plants, the seagulls, and the seals and other sea creatures. As Cole drifts away in pain and slumber, he hears voices around him as he is disoriented. It turns out that it is Edwin, who has brought him to his skiff and is taking him to safety to heal. Garvey also was there with him, calling him “Champ” as he always did. In the Drake nursing station, everyone was astounded that he had even survived, but Cole simply declares, “I am okay,” despite his horrible state.
Cole is with nurse Rosey in the city of Drake, but there is no medivac plane available to get Cole to a real hospital. Cole again had vivid dreams of his family and friends helping him but also taunting him for being so weak and helpless. Rosey and Garvey talk to Cole about the healing power of serving others, as Cole remains bewildered at why these two spend so much time helping him.
When the medivac plane arrives the next day, Edwin and Garvey ask Cole what happened on the island, and Edwin simply can’t believe that there was a real Spirit Bear on the island because normally they live hundreds of mile south of Drake. While Cole has the tuft of white hair in his jean pocket, he commits to telling the truth and asking the two men to trust him. When they are not looking, he throws away the white tufts of hair. The world will have to take Cole at his word from now on.
These four chapters comprise Cole’s central struggle for survival along with an existential crisis as he finds himself at the brink of death. The scenes in these sections are gruesome—Cole eating bugs, his own vomit, lying in his own waste, without any hope. However, the author conveys a sense of the total nothingness and emptiness felt by Cole through these very powerful symbols and images.
Perhaps most prominent in the first two chapters is the image of the bird nest—a key symbol worth exploring further. When Cole first sees the nest in the tree above him, he feels jealous of the baby birds that have someone who loves them—the mother bird. The baby birds are a symbol of the love and affection that Cole has so craved but has not let into his life.
The element of the rain is another powerful symbol as it is described as “penetrating his will” (p. 87). Certainly, the elements are testing him on a physical level, but more broadly, these elements of nature are serving as symbols of the broader healing process. As we have seen from the anger and frustration expressed in the circles back in Minnesota, Cole was not one to take lessons from adults or any fellow human. These nature elements form an alternative language and means of communication for Cole to learn the lessons of humility, patience, and understanding that jail alone was not able to give him.
The symbol of the birds is powerfully continued in chapter 10 when a bolt of lightning fells the tree where they were living. Cole sees two of the four baby birds dead on the ground the next morning, and we see for the first time a hint of compassion. He wishes that the birds didn’t have to die, and at one point yells out to them, “Are you okay?” out of concern for their lives.
Along with the concepts of humility and love for others that Cole learns through these moments lying completely vulnerable on the ground, there is also the clear and vivid interaction and approach towards death. Cole’s existential crisis runs deep within his psyche during this period. In fact, as his interactions with the Spirit Bear show, he comes slowly to accept death. The second to last time that the Spirit Bear approaches him, he musters all of his energy to spit at it, knowing that the move may prompt it to kill him. However, the second time, when the bear is much closer to him, he instead chooses to rub the bear’s fur. His gesture of kindness towards the bear exemplifies the healing between antagonist and protagonist, and can be seen as a sort of reconciliation, which can serve as a climax point of the novel. From this point on, Cole is changed because he has accepted his powerlessness and the need to care for others, just as the bear has mercifully decided to spare him.
It is telling that after this final interaction with the bear, Cole finally prepares to enter the slumber of death. Only by a miracle do Edwin and Garvey find Cole and rescue him, and even then, Cole protests and is confused that he was even allowed to live. This narrative of redemption or “resurrection” is a constant theme throughout Western literature dating back to images of the Christ figure, and after the reconciliation of Cole and the bear, Cole is offered the chance to reconstruct his life.
These intensely psychological and harrowing chapters are really the entrance point to the broader process of healing that is going on in Cole already and will continue throughout the rest of the novel, and for this reason, they are truly essential turning points of the novel as a whole.
Touching Spirit Bear Essays and Related Content
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- Ben Mikaelsen: Biography
- Touching Spirit Bear Summary
- About Touching Spirit Bear
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14, 15, and 16
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17, 18, 19, and 20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21, 22, 23, and 24
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25, 26, 27, and 28
- Circle Justice in the Real World
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- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
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