Touching Spirit Bear

How do the actions of other characters in the book connect to Cole’s crime and his eventual healing?

How do the actions of other characters in the book connect to Cole’s crime and his eventual healing?

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The author develops the theme of healing across several different dimensions. First, on the purely physical level, the Spirit Bear's attack on Cole leaves Cole physically hurt and permanently weakened. This physical pain and arduous path to healing is analogous to the suffering that Peter previously endured at the hands of Cole. In many ways, both of these instances of physical suffering and subsequent healing make later personal and psychological healing possible.

Second, at the psychological or emotional level, healing occurs when anger subsides, when Cole forgives, and when Peter experiences relief from his depression. In fact, many of the characters in the book are portrayed as on a path of healing through this novel. Edwin and Garvey are trying to make up for their past offenses. Even Cole's mother begins to open up and get over her troubled marriage with Cole's dad.

Finally, healing in this novel occurs at the community level. While the goal of Circle Justice is to serve justice to Cole and have him grow personally, the entire community involved benefits. From sending Cole's father to jail for child abuse, to allowing Peter to come closer to forgiving Cole, all of these acts of justice and forgiveness allow the community in Minneapolis here depicted to emerge stronger than it was before.


Throughout Touching Spirit Bear, Cole is challenged to forgive and to earn forgiveness. Mikaelsen truly sees this as a central insight to bring justice and healing to communities. At several points in the novel, Cole has to explicitly forgive and be forgiven, climaxing of course with the final and most important forgiveness, between Cole and Peter. Once this final reconciliation occurs, the novel almost immediately ends because it brings together a slow process of allowing Cole to see the hurt that he has caused, to feel remorse, and then to make amends. The author very explicitly treats this theme in the way he structures the book, because these three steps are mirrored in the novel's plot. When Cole goes to the Circle for the first few times he sees the hurt he has caused in the community. Then, when he is attacked by the bear on the island, he is crushed by the remorse that he feels for all those who he had hurt. Finally, when he learns to forgive others and to try to help others recover from their own problems he make amends. These central questions guide the entire novel, and so it can be said that the novel is truly centered on forgiveness.