(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Clan of the Cave Bear is an interesting novel for juvenile and young adult readers as it chronicles the coming-of-age of its young heroine, Ayla. In this initiation story, however, the main character grapples with being initiated not only into the strange world of adulthood but also into a world of an entirely different culture. Her initiation is accompanied by loss, violence, denigration, and self-effacement, yet also by grit, determination, tenacity, and triumph. Novelist Jean Auel presents the quintessential scenario of an outsider entering a homogenous group. Ayla is successfully and painfully ushered into the adult world, but her acceptance into the Clan of the Cave Bear ultimately fails.

Ayla is an outsider because she is different, both physically and mentally. Her slender, tall, blond, and blue-eyed appearance provides a stark physical contrast to the short, stocky, dark-haired Neanderthals, who consider her ugly and unmarriageable. Her analytical abilities, intuitive thinking, and inventive spirit advance her mentally over the Clan’s people, whose knowledge comes from memory and who communicate telepathically during their ritual ceremonies. While they have reached the end of their evolutionary line, Ayla is the future of humankind. The Clan members are half-aware of that fact, although none of them as much as Broud, Ayla’s nemesis.

As an outsider, Ayla is expected to conform to the ways of the Clan. Initially, she must unlearn her spoken language and adopt the sign language of...

(The entire section is 623 words.)