Study Guide

Touching Spirit Bear Mortality

By Ben Mikaelsen


Chapter 8

Cole closed his eyes. Was he dying? Every movement, every breath tortured him. The blood seeping into his throat choked him. He coughed, and pain ripped at his chest. His stomach churned, and the world threatened to turn black. (8.12)

As soon as he goes up against Spirit Bear, Cole totally regrets it. It's obvious that Spirit Bear won this fight, and now Cole might not make it off of this island alive. What a bummer.

What would happen when the last bit of warmth seeped from his body? What was death like? Did it hurt? Did it come fast like lightning from the sky or a blow from the Spirit Bear? Did death sneak around like a stinking seagull, trying to snatch life from a body like meat chunks from a rotting carcass? Or did life just flicker out like a dim candle? (8.27)

Now Cole is really scared about his fate and wonders what it feels like to die. He's simply not ready to die yet, even though he's in a whole world of pain. He's going to fight through it.

Chapter 10

Cole understood this cycle. Beside him a tree had died. Already, ants and bugs crawled among the cracked bark and splintered wood. For them life went on. In a few weeks they would make new homes from the wood. With time, the tree would rot and become dirt. Then a new seed would fall and grow, and another tree would push upward. (10.14)

As Cole looks around, he sees that life and death form a natural cycle—and that he's a part of this cycle, too. He can't escape dying no matter how aggressive he gets or how much he fights everyone and everything that gets in his way.

Chapter 11

In that moment, Cole realized how badly he wanted to live. The food he had thrown up was still food. Those fish bits still contained energy, and energy was life. No thieving seagull was going to steal life from him. He jerked his arm at the gulls. "Mine," he grunted. "That's mine." (11.8)

It's pretty gross to eat food that he's already thrown up, but Cole doesn't really have a choice. If he wants to survive, he's going to have to do some unpleasant things, including consuming some seriously gross meals.

Chapter 24

"Peter tried again last night to commit suicide. His parents are desperate." Edwin placed both hands on the table. "Yesterday, when I left here, you said that you could help Peter. And you hollered after me that I wasn't listening. Well, now I'm listening. Tell me what you meant." (24.64)

Even though Peter's family totally hates Cole, they don't know what else to do to save his life. They have to listen to what Cole says and just hope that he also wants Peter to survive and do well.

"He said that last week Peter tried to commit suicide."

"Suicide!" Cole caught his breath. "Why?"

"If someone is treated as if his life is worthless, he begins to believe it." (24.36-38)

Cole is utterly shocked to hear that Peter has attempted suicide, but he shouldn't be. After all, he's shown the kid that his life doesn't matter—someone can just beat him up and show no remorse afterwards.

Cole crawled into bed but tossed fitfully. He remembered his own close brush with death and how terrified he'd been. It haunted him to think that Peter had tried to end his life on purpose. How scared must someone be to actually go searching for death? (24.54)

It's not until Peter tries to commit suicide that Cole comes to understand just how much he's messed up Peter's life, as well as his family's. It's obvious that Peter is in even more emotional pain that the physical pain of being beaten up.

Chapter 25
Cole Matthews

"I deserved to die," he said. "They didn't. But that was the first time I was really scared that I might die. That was when I first started thinking about my life and cared about something besides myself. And that was when Edwin and Garvey found me." (25.33)

Cole's near-death experience is actually something he now treasures instead of regrets. By almost dying, he was able to reexamine his life and make some meaningful changes toward being a better person.

"I'm not afraid of dying," Cole boasted.

Edwin smiled slightly. "If death stares you straight in the face, believe me, son, you'll get scared." (2.16-17)

Cole thinks he's a total tough guy—the kind of person who wouldn't be afraid to die—but Edwin knows better. Cole is just saying this because he hasn't actually confronted his mortality yet.

Instead of fleeing, the bear shifted position to face Cole directly. Head hung low, it waited. Cole hesitated, then kept inching forward. It puzzled him that the bear would hold its ground. It must be bluffing. Surely it would turn and run. If it didn't, it would die. He intended to kill it. Didn't the stupid moron know that? (7.31)

Cole considers Spirit Bear stupid for not backing down when he's so intent on killing the creature, but what he doesn't realize is that Spirit Bear is the one with the upper hand—and Cole's the one with his life on the line.