(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"The Bear," though it is developed with considerable complexity, can be seen as a story of coming of age.

The first part tells about Isaac's first trip, at the age of ten, with a group of older dedicated hunters into the wilderness for which Sam has been preparing him for some time. Isaac feels reborn when he enters the untamed land, and he begins to understand his smallness in relation to the vastness of the universe as represented by the wild woodland and by the bear who seems to embody the spirit of that land. In this context, he learns to see Sam as the voice of the spirit of the land. At the end of the first part, he surrenders himself to that spirit by learning to trust himself to it. This is accomplished when he abandons all his tools of hunting, defense, and navigation in order to meet old Ben face to face alone for the first time.

The second part is about the discovery of Lion, a wild dog that seems to embody the spirit of predation that is part of the wilderness, but not its essence. Though Isaac experiences the life force as central, there also is a death force that brings each individual to an end while still serving the overall processes of nature. Lion is trained to track Old Ben.

The third part covers the three years that the hunters use Lion to pursue Ben during their annual November hunting trips. In the third year, they successfully kill Ben. However, Ben is killed not by one of the regular hunters, but instead by the ne'er-do-well Boon Hogganbeck. Boon has fallen in love with Lion. When Lion grapples with Ben, the bear attempts to kill the dog. Boon...

(The entire section is 656 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Rites of Passage
"The Bear" describes several important rites of passage for Dee McCaslin. The first rites of passage that readers encounter are the hunting rituals marking the various stages of his growth as a hunter. His first hunting trip at age ten, killing his first deer at age twelve, and other important landmarks in his hunting experience are described in the narrative. Ike is well acquainted with the normal progression of the hunter's apprenticeship, and is able to anticipate his experiences before they occur: "It seemed to him that at the age of ten he was witnessing his own birth. It was not even strange to him. He had experienced it all before, and not merely in dreams." Ike is prepared to follow the procedures of his apprenticeship: taking the worst hunting stand on his first trip; Sam marking his face and hands with blood after he kills his first deer; and the long evenings of storytelling. Camping and hunting with the men is itself an important right of passage, an ancient tradition of teaching and camaraderie that links men through stories of great hunters and legendary kills. Rites of passage preserve cultures for the next generation, and Ike's experiences place him at the end of a long line of skillful woodsmen. Much of Ike's apprenticeship seems to come from nature itself. The bear teaches the boy about the woods as much as Sam Fathers does. The death of Old Ben becomes a sort of graduation ceremony for Ike, indicating the end of this important period of learning in Ike's life. After he returns home, Dee tries to apply his respect for the land and the life it upholds to the world in which he lives. He...

(The entire section is 672 words.)