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Summary and Analysis of The Novel Touching Spirit Bear

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Ben Mikaelsen’s heart-warming novel, Touching Spirit Bear, revolves around the story of Cole Matthews and the life-changing experience he undergoes. Cole’s one year banishment to an isolated island completely transforms the temperamental teenager from Minneapolis, who finds satisfaction in beating up others, into a human being who understands the power of choice, life, and healing. Cole’s choices influence readers in more than one way, showing them that change is possible, if only they make the right choices and all involved are healing. While following the path which Cole chooses, the reader is capable of viewing him as a changing person.

During the beginning of the novel, Cole Matthews is viewed as a completely different human being than he is at the end. Readers see Cole as a physically abused teenageer filled with rage, taking it out on others, and expecting them to fear him like how he fears his father. He is raised in a way causing him to feel that he is meant to be obeyed. There are many scenarios in which he proves that he is, in his opinion, superior. He shows that his only outlet for his anger is hurting other people, both physically and mentally. From his perspective, he is the one everyone is meant to fear, not the other way around. His attitude on bullying others makes it clear that his anger is let out by making an almost ‘casual’ hobby of injuring people. So far in the novel, he never feels any guilt for hurting others. “The kid, Peter Drsical, was a ninth grader Cole had picked on many times before just for the fun of it. Still, no one ratted on Cole Mattews without paying the price. That day, he caught up with Peter in the hallway at school. ‘You’re a dead man,’ he warned the skinny red-haired boy, giving him a hard shove. He laughed when he saw fear in Peter’s eyes.” The quote gives the impression that Cole is a character who has been tormenting others several times, and gotten away with it; the book states that this is not the first time he bullies Peter. He receives an unmistakable satisfaction with the fact that others were going through the pain which he went through in his own home. Although Cole Matthews torments others for fun, later on, he finds himself in the position of a victim, where there is absolutely no one around for miles to help him, and this is when he appreciates life for what it is, and gradually, begins transforming into a better person.

Shortly after Cole’s arrival on the island, he is attacked by the Spirit Bear, and it is then that he truly understands the value of life, the power of choice, and the beauty that he destroyed. There is a moment in Cole’s journey where he realizes that life is worth appreciating, and it is then that he hopes desperately to live without pain, or be dead so that he does not have to bear the agony. The moment Cole starts wondering if he would live long enough to go back to Minneapolis is when he realizes how much he really missed out in life. “A strange thought occured to Cole: the world was beautiful. Yes, the world was beautiful! Even the wet moss and crushed grass near his hand was beautiful. Staring at the delicate patterns, he wondered why he had never noticed all this before. How much beauty did he miss in his lifetime? How much beauty had he destroyed?” (Chapter 12). He understands that some things aren’t worth having to go through, and just because one person suffers, it doesn’t mean that others have to as well. At this point in the story, readers get a glimpse of the real Cole, the person who does have a heart, but is taught to make others be afraid of him. He originally comes to the island for the sake of avoiding jail, but later on, Cole realizes that to fix himself, he will have to help the people he hurt, including Peter Driscal.

By now, Cole Matthews has been growing into a much more mature human, and he realizes that to heal, all those that were affected in the process must heal as well. Cole accepts that he needs to help Peter heal, and when Peter decides to stay on the island, he lashes out at Cole; Peter starts beating up Cole, and when Peter breaks down, Cole comforts him. When Peter decides to take out his anger and frustration on Cole, Cole uses the chance to fully explain everything he learnt to Peter.

“Cole fought back his own tears. ‘I’m part of some big circle that I don’t understand. And so are you. Life, death, good and bad, everything is part of that circle. When I hurt you, I hurt myself, too. I don’t think that I’ll ever heal from what I did to you, but I’m sorry, Peter. I really am sorry.’ Peter knelt, crying, his body bent forward. Cole, not knowing what else to do, wrapped his arms around Peter’s shoulders. For a long time, Peter let himself be hugged, leaning back into Cole.”

Cole explains to Peter about how they’re all part of a big circle, and he officially apologizes for what he did. They comfort and forgive each other, and in this way, both Cole and Peter understand the power of choice and healing. By this point in the story, readers can accept Cole as a young man who understands his mistakes and their consequences. Cole knows that what he did to Peter is wrong, and Peter knows Cole’s complete story now, and both of them pardon each other.

All in all, during the course of his one year banishment, Cole Matthews shows readers that if they make the right choices, they can change completely from a person with anger issues to a person who can tame their rage and be able to control it. During the start of his journey, he is a teenager filled with rage, who has no idea how to control it. By the middle of the novel, he starts to show empathy for creatures other than him. He understands that life contains beauty which is meant to be appreciated, not destroyed. Towards the end of the novel, he changes into a human who understands what it means to heal, and heals himself and others. By now, readers view Cole Matthews as a dynamic character, having witnessed him change from a physically abused, angry teenager, to an empathetic young man. Readers learn lessons that allow them to cope with their emotions. One such possibility is that readers learn that they are never capable of completely removing emotion from their mind. They can either control it, or hide it well. Another such truth that one is capable of understanding from this novel is that when helping yourself recover, one step in the process is healing everyone else that got affected.  

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Summary And Analysis Of The Novel Touching Spirit Bear. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from
“Summary And Analysis Of The Novel Touching Spirit Bear.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Summary And Analysis Of The Novel Touching Spirit Bear. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jan. 2022].
Summary And Analysis Of The Novel Touching Spirit Bear [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Jan 22]. Available from:
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