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Touching Spirit Bear Summary and Analysis

by Ben Mikaelsen

Chapters 14, 15, and 16

Summary

Chapter 14

This chapter begins part two of the novel, and it is set six months after the date that the medivac plane took Cole to a hospital. Cole still had a lot of pain, and he had limited use of his right hand because of the bear attack. The reader learns that Cole’s father has been arrested and charged with child abuse for what he has done to Cole. Garvey and Cole’s mom are with him at the hospital as he is being led to the juvenile detention center.

Even though out of the hospital, Cole goes through months of physical therapy to regain even a little use of his limbs. Cole and his mother have a heart-warming reconciliation. She apologizes for not defending Cole against his father, and she says that she has stopped drinking. Cole comments that this is the first time that she has ever really opened up to him, and the two hug.

The scene changes to the Justice Circle, where almost all of the former members of the circle return—with the notable absence of Cole’s father and Peter’s family. The consensus of the members of the circle is that Cole broke his contract with the circle, so he should be returned to the criminal justice system. However, at that moment Edwin walks in, freshly arrived from Alaska.

Chapter 15

The circle continues with Cole giving his explanation for why he acted as he did on the island, as everyone including Edwin sit in to listen. Cole is honest with the group and explains that he only went to the island to escape jail, and his mother then explains how she feels that he has truly changed. Edwin is the last to speak, and explains to the circle that Cole has at least had a change in direction if not a complete change of heart.

The crux of the decision lies on whether there was actually a Spirit Bear on the island, or if Cole is just lying again. Edwin declares that a group of fishermen claimed to see a Spirit Bear off of the island where Cole was stationed a day after Cole left the island. Still, this is not enough for the Keeper or Peter’s lawyer, so Cole is left to wait the final verdict on whether he will go to real jail or not. Over several weeks the Circle keeps meeting without Cole, and at the end of the chapter, Edwin and Garvey declare that they have secured Cole’s custody to return him to the island and try again for the process of healing.

[Chapter 16]

Cole returns to Southeast Alaska. As per Edwin’s request, all of the costs of the trip are funded by selling Cole’s possessions such as his dirt bike and bicycle. This trip is truly his last chance, and he has sacrificed much for it. Edwin and Garvey agree to stay on the island for two days in order to give time for Cole to build the shelter.

When they ask him to prepare food for them, Cole hands them cold hot dogs. Edwin and Garvey then go into a speech about how “life is a hot dog.” Whereas Cole merely sees the hot dog as food, Garvey cuts the hot dog into three pieces, shares it, and makes many toasts and much merriment out of the occasion. The lesson of making the most out of very little is supposed to make Cole think about how he could make his time on the island a celebration.

Analysis

These three chapters have a foreboding mood, as the action takes a break from the intense scenes on the island, and instead transitions to the looming question of what is in store for Cole post-bear attack. The reader sees that there has clearly been a transformation in Cole’s attitude and perspective on life, which is made clear by the third-person omniscient form of narration.

However, the bulk of these chapters center on how Cole tries to convince others that he is willing to change. The reader is clearly placed on Cole’s side, knowing the truth of what happened, but the doubts of the members of the circle are truly frustrating for Cole and for the reader. Nevertheless, there do remain moments when even the reader doubts the certainty of Cole’s assertion. Was the Spirit Bear a dream? If so, how did this happen to Cole? It doesn’t seem reasonable that it could have been a deception, but even the reader questions the veracity of the narrator. These doubts reveal the highly symbolic nature of the Spirit Bear and its attack on Cole. Regardless of the veracity of the attack, the meaning for Cole’s life is apparent, and to Cole and to the reader it seems justification for a second chance.

A central theme explored most fully in this section, thus, is that of truth. Up to this point, Cole has been consistently lying. He lied to the Circle about his intention to reform himself, and he lied to Edwin and Garvey that he would remain quietly on the island. Now, however, Cole is placed in the curious position of telling the truth having established a reputation for deceit. The impact of truth telling goes beyond Cole to the very striking transformation of his mother into a truth-telling and caring woman for the first time in Cole’s life. She finally stands up to Cole’s father and tells the truth about his abuses of Cole to the police, and she finally opens up to Cole so that they can have a true relationship—or at least begin one.

Ultimately, however, the most important effect of Cole’s truth telling is the trust built between Cole, Edwin, and Garvey. It is only through the advocacy of the latter two that Cole is able to gain his ultimate verdict to return to the island and complete his sentence. The author uses intense bursts of dialogue to convey the tenuous trust that is building between them, particularly in their dialogue towards the end of Chapter 15 where Edwin reveals that he has convinced the circle to release Cole to the island again.

Finally, Circle Justice is tested during these chapters. The bedrock concept of healing through forgiveness and personal exploration is faced with the reality of an unsuccessful venture into healing. The members of the circle are clear that there are limits to how much benevolence they can have, and Cole at times is almost certain he will be locked up in jail instead of being given another chance. Also telling is the irony that now that Cole is finally telling the truth, he is actually excluded from the Circles, where he should normally be allowed to express his honest opinions. The fact that Cole has to buy his own way back to the island indicates that this justice is more severe and exacting, and that this really is the last chance for Cole. The reader waits in anticipation for the results of this new journey on the island.

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