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The setting of the novel Touching Spirit Bear has multiple layers. The most significant encompassing layer of the setting is the island near the village of Drake in Alaska. In the course of the novel, the main character, Cole Matthews, reflects on various events which allows the setting to switch to the detention center in Minnesota, the Circle Justice Meetings, and the house of Rosie for example.
The island is the primary setting which the plot of the novel revolves around. The island is the area Cole is sent to by Circle Justice to begin his healing process through isolation. While on the island Cole is attacked by the Spirit Bear and must find the will to survive. It is the island itself that helps him to survive. The memory of how the mother bird fed the babies allows Cole to believe he is like a baby bird as he lies broken and near death. It is on the island that Cole comes to realize that he is part of the Circle of Life. If he were to die, he would be food for the animals. While he is living he must survive on what the setting provides him: his own vomit, mice, and worms.
When Cole attempts a second time on the island, it is the setting that helps to heal Cole through the pond, carrying the rock, carving the totem pole, and the dance. In the end it is the setting that heals Peter as well when he arrives on the island. The island helps both boys to lose their anger and resentment for their circumstances.
Without the setting of the island, it is doubtful that the main character, Cole, would have gone through a transformation. He would have probably continued down the same path of criminal activity until he would have done something even more serious as an adult. The future did not look bright for Cole. It is the setting, the island, that changes the course of the main character's life.
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