Jean M(arie) Auel John Pfeiffer - Essay

John Pfeiffer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Clan of the Cave Bear"] tells the tale of a band of prehistoric hunter-gatherers living on the Crimean peninsula near the shores of the Black Sea…. These people, at large some 35,000 years ago, are representatives of a dying breed, among the last of the Neanderthal line.

The band faces new tensions, new troubles, which will ultimately prove its undoing. It has just taken in one of the "Others," a 5-year-old girl foundling named Ayla whose parents have been killed in a recent earthquake…. She is a member of the Cro-Magnon species destined to replace all Neanderthals everywhere. (p. 7)

The Neanderthal people are doomed by the structure of their brains. Intelligent and sensitive, they have prodigious memories, care for their weak and handicapped and bury their dead with grave talismans for use in an afterlife. At the height of secret totemic ceremonies, they can probe deep into the racial past, communicating with one another telepathically. But having only rudimentary frontal lobes, the brain centers responsible for foresight and analysis, they are incapable of adapting to major changes. They have reached an evolutionary dead end, living very much as their ancestors lived 100,000 years ago. Everything they do has been done already. They cannot innovate, and that is where the growing girl of the Others shines.

The people are amazed, one spring day near the inland sea, to see Ayla plunging into a swift...

(The entire section is 582 words.)