Touching Spirit Bear Final Project

By: Neeti Duggal, Jasmine KC, Khulda Noor, Amanda Wensley

Introduction (Option 3):

Cole Matthews messed up big time . He robbed a store, got caught, and then smashed the skull of the boy who told on him against the sidewalk. Sent to a detention center and threatened by the possibility of being sent to jail, Cole snatches at the first opportunity presented before him to avoid going to jail: Circle Justice (a system based on Native American Justice in which all involved with the crime are helped in healing). Although firm in his belief that Circle Justice is complete bogus and all those involved are idiots, Cole goes along with everything and with the help of his Parole Officer, Garvey, he’s sitting on a remote Alaskan island in no time. A series of events follow, involving a fire, being mauled by a bear, and a raging storm. Brutally beaten to death and on the verge of dying, Cole makes life changing realizations before he is finally rescued by his Parole Officer and the Elder who helped get him to the island. He comes back to the island in hopes to change for good, but can he really? Will his injuries get in the way of his redemption? Can he ever change with only the help of humans?

About the Author:

Ben Mikaelsen lives in Bozeman, Montana and is Bolivian of Danish descent. He lives in a log cabin and has even adopted and raised a 750 pound Black Bear, Buffy.

He began writing full-time in 1984, and he found that he was able to put words on paper because of all the experiences he'd had from travelling.

Mr. Mikaelsen was 48 when he wrote Touching Spirit Bear. He has also won the two following awards: Reading Association Award and the Western Writers of America Spur award.

Ben Mikaelsen thanks those who have helped him understand the healing ways of Circle Justice.


Cole's banishment took place on a remote Alaskan island. The beginning of the story took place in Minneapolis, though.

Character Information:

Cole - Cole was neglected by his mother and beaten by his father which was why he took his anger out on everyone else. He felt lonely all the time and felt like no one cared for him. He did badly in school and because he was so alone with no one to take care of him, he never knew right from wrong. He felt like nothing more mattered to him anymore. Cole had uncontrollable anger issues, which is why he couldn’t stop himself from taking his anger out on Peter when he told on him for robbing and trashing the hardware store. Cole thought spending a year on that island was much better than being in jail for a year, at least he’d be free. That’s what he thought.

Cole changed in many ways. Two ways are that he learned to control his anger. He stopped getting mad at every little thing. He also learned to forgive. He stopped blaming his parents for what he had become, finally accepting responsibility and forgiving his father for abusing him and his mother for neglecting him.

Edwin- Edwin was a Tlingit elder who was part of the Circle and helped Cole out by trying to teach him the wonderful things he realized in his life. Edwin learned more and more about the circle in which they all live in. He himself used to be like Cole until coming to the island changed his intentions, his attitude, and himself. Because he came to the island at a young age, Edwin learned things such as you can never truly get rid of your anger, calming yourself by soaking in the pond and also to roll it away, simply by carrying the ancestor rock up the hill and pushing it down.

Garvey- Garvey was the Indian parole officer who also helped Cole on his way to having a better and more positive life. Garvey felt that by helping Cole, he'd be helping the community, himself, and Cole. Garvey himself has also learned about the circle and that everything is part of a circle. He learned that if you are harming someone else, you are also harming yourself. To Garvey, this means that if you harm someone or something, you have to work to restore the damage you have done to that person and to yourself. He believed that if you go somewhere full of hate, you’ll return with hate, but if you go with love, you’ll return with love. Healing is much harder than going to jail was what Garvey believed. Garvey learned to see the potential in Cole, but was working on trusting Cole after his betrayal.

Peter- Peter felt very violated with the way he was brutally beaten by Cole. At first, he had a normal life until he chose to tell on Cole and got beaten to a pulp. After that, he felt worthless because he was simply treated that way when his head was smashed on the sidewalk. He tried to commit suicide because he felt that because of his severe injuries and the way he was treated, that there was no point in living. Peter was even more scared of Cole and felt depressed and as if he could never forgive Cole for what he had done.

The changes Peter faced were both physical and mental: physically, he was impaired. He had trouble walking and speaking. Mentally, he was depressed. He wanted to suicide because he didn't think there was any point in living. But in the end, it seems as if Peter has finally come to accept life.

Tone and Mood/ Writing Style:

We think that the author's writing style helped portray Cole as a protagonist who was constantly angry and frustrated with the world. At every turn in the story, he was constantly blaming people. The author was able to portray the character as somebody who was negative because he possessed the ability to describe Cole as a strong, delinquent-like, and violent person.

Mr. Mikaelsen managed to incorporate the environment with the morals of the story (ie: the storm and the sparrows). He made Cole realize that in life he couldn't always over-power everything and everybody.

Plot Structure:

Exposition: Cole is sent to a remote island as punishment for beating a boy up.

  • (Setting: Minneapolis,
  • Characters: Cole, Peter, Garvey, Edwin

Initial incident: Cole pounds Peter's skull on the sidewalk, and Peter bleeds from the impact. Cole gets sent to the detention center.

Rising Action: Cole gets sent to the island and burns the cabin down.

Climax: After Cole lays mauled by the spirit bear, he realizes he's a small human that has no impact on the world, and the world doesn't revolve around him

Falling action: Cole goes back to the island after being mauled by the Spirit Bear and learns things about himself and the world while living through his banishment on the island.

Resolution: Cole gives Peter his at oow, and they become friends as Cole helps him heal. Peter has also finally forgiven him.

Types of Conflict:

Character vs. Character: Examples of this conflict are expressed through different situations, such as Cole’s father beating him. Cole’s father and Cole had an aggressive relationship. As well as that, Cole’s grandfather had taken a liking to beating Mr. Matthews (Cole’s father). Cole admitted that his father abused him by saying, “Mom, tell them how Dad beats on me when he’s drunk.” (pg: 49) As well as physically abusing Cole, there was also verbal abuse taking place in the form of threats against both Cole and his mother (“You mind your own business or I’ll use this thing on you.”) (pg: 55) Another case in which two characters were fighting is when Cole beats up Peter by repeatedly punching him and smashing his head against the sidewalk, resulting in Cole later discovering that Peter now has speech problems and walking. In my opinion, this conflict was huge as it was the reason Cole got sent to the island. Later, near the end of the book, Peter also takes revenge by kicking and punching Cole. All these examples represent conflict between two individual characters, not always resulting in a two-way fight.

Character vs. Nature: Cole experienced this conflict when he went to the island.The spirit bear had attacked him, resulting in several injuries such as broken ribs, broken bones, ripped skin, and several wounds from where the spirit bear sunk its teeth into his skin. After that, he had to survive on his own on the island in Alaska with no food, water or shelter. In order to survive, he had to eat grass, munch on bugs and pests, all the while getting stung by mosquitoes and horseflies. This happening caused Cole to stay at the hospital for 6 months. ("…You'll end up in a hospital.") (Pg.110). These cases involved Cole versing nature in order to survive.

Character vs. Society: Throughout the whole book, Cole is constantly battling against society. This type of conflict is what technically prompted Cole to be sent to the island, and in my opinion, is one of the major conflicts. Since the beginning of the book, the main character, Cole, is constantly battling society’s judgemental opinions, specifically through violence. Usually, it seemed as if violence was his way of dealing with everything and everyone. Sometimes, we, as readers, felt as if he was trying to prove himself to everybody. Ben Mikaelsen portrays this through a variety of different circumstances. He illustrates this through acts such as showing how everybody is judging him after beating up Peter, the council not believing he was sincere in his motives to go to the island, Cole’s parents concerned about people judging them because of Cole’s actions, everybody doubting he wanted to change for the second time when he was actually serious, and other cases such as these. All of these cases represent the conflict between character versus society.


Major theme: Circle of Life- Circle of Life is represented throughout the novel at different parts. It signifies that life is like a circle, it is always going around (that is, until you die), the start of an event is an end to another event. Garvey mentions it earlier on when Cole was going through the Healing circle.

Cole had asked “Why is everything in a circle?”(Pg.34)

To which Garvey replied with “Life is a circle” (Pg.34)

It was also discussed later on by Cole and Peter, (“We allowed ourselves to become a part of the big circle.”[Pg. 239]), (“...Every part of a circle is both a beginning and an end...And everything is one” [Pg. 240].) This concludes that the circle of life affects everything, one action could lead to another and one simple mistake that you make will come back to you in some way, just like it had happened to Cole. Earlier on Cole had bragged in school about his break in at a hardware store, which led to him getting investigated by the police. That caused him to vent his frustrations out on Peter the dude who had told on him, having beat Peter up severely he landed himself in court. All these events prove the statement “Life is a circle”- Garvey. Each time an incident ended another one rose, and it kept on going around just like a circle, the incidents were infinite.

Minor theme: Anger- Throughout the entire book, Cole is constantly angry. He is constantly doing reckless things, such as attacking Peter and burning down his cabin on the island (because he felt as if everybody had left him). I think he is angry because of how his father abused him and how his mother did nothing but watch. Eventually, through the progression of the book, Cole manages to rein in his anger and no longer attacks everyone and everything. Adding to that, in my opinion, Edwin played a major role in his anger’s reprieve. After the Elder’s explanation about how one could never rid themselves of anger (“People spend lifetimes breaking their stick to get rid of anger. But always anger remains, and they think they’ve failed.”) (pg: 144), Cole became calmer. The stick showed him that there would always be a left side, also known as his anger. Also, when Peter came and began pushing Cole’s buttons, he didn't snap. He began spending his time helping Peter, gaining Peter’s forgiveness in the end.

Anger is not the major theme because everything branches of the central theme, Circle of Life. Circle of life shows how everything is connected while anger is just an emotion. The major theme interlocks everything, anger and happiness, death and life, rich and poor.

Rating of Touching Spirit Bear:

Jasmine- I give this book a solid 0.5 out 5. This book is one of the most tedious, boring, dullest piece of writing that I have ever read. I believe this because this book did not hold even a bit of my interest. the main character wasn't exactly captivating.  

Neeti- I give this book a 2 out of 5, and that's generous. This book had great lessons on life, and quotes that could really impact somebody's life, but unfortunately, that wasn't enough to keep me hooked. As an avid reader, I prefer books with a bit of Supernatural, Science Fiction, Fantasy, etc. This book, however, was none of those. It was also way below my reading level. I felt as if I was reading a book in Grade. 4, but even then, I'm sure, I had read more complicated books. This book was as simple as they get. Not only that, but the main character was constantly emitting negative vibes which got on my nerves. I've only given this book a 2 because of the morals. Remove those, and this book is a solid zero.

Noor-  I would give this book a 5 out of 5 because it is close with the unit we are learning in social and it portrays the consequences that youth have to face and it taught me about First Nations methods of healing that I had never known about. This books also made me realize and learn lessons I never knew about such as "anger cannot disappear"  

Amanda- I give this book a 4 out of 5. This book grabbed my attention and held it the whole way through. Even though this book was quite a bit under my level it had lots of strong vocab. A lot of different things happened and there were a lot of flashbacks but the author organized it very well so there was no confusion, I was really impressed by that. There were a lot of  lessons that will stay with me and so many inspirational quotes.

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