The Evolution Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE EVOLUTION MAN first appeared in 1960 and has been reprinted in several countries. In it, Roy Lewis offers a satiric view of evolution from the perspective of Ernest, a cave boy who does not always approve of his father’s attempts to get the family to evolve. Even more opposed is Uncle Vanya, who suggests that the most stupid thing man ever did was come out of the trees.

Father, the head of the horde, is on a continual quest to improve humanity, starting with his own family. He brings fire from a nearby volcano to the cave, then tries to figure out how to get new fires more conveniently when the old ones are allowed to go out. Father’s experiments with fire provide the main thread of the narrative and lead to the climactic conflict with his sons. The sons do not always approve of Father’s changes. Ernest complains, for example, of the digestive troubles caused by trying to switch from being an herbivore to being an omnivore.

Family members frequently discuss the nature of evolution, placing themselves in the Pleistocene Era but trying to decide whether it is the Early or Upper Pleistocene. Father conducts a bold experiment with his sons, abandoning them in the jungle and telling them to acquire mates from another horde; he tells them “Exogamy begins right here.” He hopes to achieve more rapid evolution through intermixing. In convincing his sons to stay away from the horde until they have acquired outside mates, Father remarks on societal stagnation and how the limited language that is available prevents abstraction. Ironically, his speech is eloquent and quite abstract. This is only one example of the seeming inconsistencies and anachronisms that make THE EVOLUTION MAN so entertaining. Another amusing sequence concerns the women’s complaints about their caves. The horde’s move into a new and larger cave prompts Father to think of adding a wine cellar later. The entire narrative is hilarious.