The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

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Introduction

(Novels for Students)

The Clan of the Cave Bear was initially met with reluctance by publishers when Jean Auel approached them with her plan for a series of novels set in prehistoric times. Although meticulously researched, the sheer length of the original manuscript made many publishers unwilling to take the risk on the untried author. Indeed The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those novels that is either loved or hated.

The story concerns a young girl named Ayla who is orphaned by a natural disaster and then adopted by a group known as the Clan. Ayla is very different from the Clan: physically, she is blond and blue-eyed and the people in the Clan are stocky and dark; she is expressive, sensitive, and smart and they are dour, plodding, and cold. Historians and anthropologists immediately reacted to Auel's book, maintaining that her assumptions about Neanderthal life were not realistic. In fact, Auel seems to be basing her view of the Neanderthal on the racially motivated "bad" science of late nineteenth-century French anthropology. It is precisely this "bad" science and overt racism that has prompted many anthropologists to denounce the novel.

However, the reading public truly seems to enjoy the novel that sold over one hundred thousand copies in the first three months after its publication. The Clan of the Cave Bear is an original work of fiction that explores the world of human beings in prehistoric times. Her novel has even inspired fans to write sequels about the Clan available on the World Wide Web (www.onebridgehome.com/altauel)

Summary

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, attempts to re-create an Upper Paleolithic (Ice Age) community complete with all its social components, including sexuality. In this prehistoric environment, sexual acts occur in a naturalistic manner—sometimes with violence—without recourse to religious decrees or principles. Numerous censorship conflicts resulted after the book’s publication. In 1993 Tom Baldwin, a trustee of the Moorpark Unified School District in Ventura County, California, attempted to remove it and other Auel novels from the eleventh grade recommended reading list. The book, he maintained, contained “hardcore graphic sexual conduct.” A seven-member committee unanimously defeated his action and Auel’s novels stayed in the high school library. English teacher Peggy Blakelock argued that “the right to read what you want is basic to democratic society.” Earlier, in 1985, parents at a San Antonio, Texas, high school disrupted school board meetings in an attempt to have the novel removed from library shelves.

Part I Summary

(Novels for Students)

Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear chronicles the story of a prehistoric girl, named Ayla. As the novel opens, Ayla is a young child when her parents are killed in a violent earthquake. She wanders aimlessly for days, starving and alone. In her delirium of hunger, Ayla wanders into a valley that is home to massive cave lions. She survives a lion attack by hiding in a rock crevice, but a lion is able to scratch her left thigh. Ayla's thirst finally drives her from her hiding place and she is found by the Clan woman, Iza. The woman rescues the child.

Iza belongs to the Clan, a group of humans that are looking for a place to live after the earthquake had destroyed their home too. Brun, the leader, is worried that the spirits are angry with him. After several weeks, Brun decides that they should turn back. Just before he makes this announcement, Iza tells him that Ayla has found a home for the group. The new cave is large and convenient in terms of water, weather, and food sources.

Brun decides to let the oldest son of his mate, Broud, join in the hunt for the first time. The successful hunt allows Broud to become a man and allows the Clan to move into the cave. However, Broud must share his coming-of-age ceremony with naming ceremonies for the two Clan infants and Ayla. He is resentful of her presence right away, foreshadowing later problems.

At the ceremony,...

(The entire section is 1,969 words.)