The Cave Bear Clan is the first book in a saga called The Children of Earth. This book was published in 1980 and its story is set in the Paleolithic era and is geographically located on the Crimean Peninsula.
This work is without a doubt a novel but it can be categorized as much as a historical novel, for its setting during the Quaternary Ice Age, as a fantasy novel. This last subgenre also comes from the era in which it is set, since events must be imagined taking into account that there are no reliable historical records.
Narrator and characters
Jean Auel uses the omniscient third-person point of view in this novel, this means that the narrator knows that the private thoughts and feelings of all the characters that interact, allowing the reader to have a deep knowledge of not only what is happening, it is about what the characters involved think and feel.
- Ayla: is a young Cromañón whose parents die in an earthquake. She is rescued by Iza, the Clan’s healer, and is brought to the Clan.
- Broud: He is the son of Brun’s partner, Ebe, and is therefore destined to become the next leader of the Clan. He is also superficial, vain, selfish, impatient and illogical. However, he is a brilliant dancer, a fearless hunter, and a great storyteller.
- Brun: is the leader of the Clan. He is a very traditional ruler and does not like to alter old customs. However, he is very concerned about doing whatever it takes to help his people survive.
- Iza: the clan healer and Ayla’s adoptive mother
- Creb: the crippled mog-ur of the clan and Ayla’s adoptive father
- Uba: Iza’s biological daughter and Ayla’s adoptive sister
- Durc: the son of Ayla and Broud
The title The Clan of the Cave Bear makes a direct reference to the name of the clan to which the protagonist Ayla is taken after being orphaned.
Summary, analysis and synopsis
Ayla is a Cro-Magnon girl with blonde hair and blue eyes who lives in prehistoric Europe when her entire family and her camp are destroyed by an earthquake. For days on end, the five-year-old girl wanders alone, naked and hungry. After escaping with her life from an encounter with a tiger that hurts her leg, Ayla collapses.
An undetermined amount of time later, a healer named Iza who belongs to a group of Neanderthals called “The Clan” finds Ayla and rescues her. She brings the girl to her town, who with their leader Brun are also looking for a new home in the wake of the same earthquake that killed Ayla’s family.
Despite Ayla’s suspicions of the more robust and darker Neanderthals who refer to her as one of “The Others”, Iza and her brother Creb, the “Mo-gur” or shaman of the Clan, adopt the girl as their own .
As Ayla regains her strength, the rest of the Clan’s opinion of Ayla changes considerably, especially when one day she walks away from the Clan as her members discuss the difficulty of finding a new home. When the Clan discovers where Ayla has escaped, they see that she has inadvertently led them to a massive cave structure that serves as the perfect new home. For many, Ayla is now the Clan’s good luck charm and thus they will protect her at all costs.
Despite this, tensions still arise between Ayla and the Clan. Communication is tense because the Clan, unlike Ayla, is based only on sign language and expresses almost nothing with their faces. For example, when Ayla starts crying one day, the gesture is so foreign to Iza that she believes Ayla must have some eye disease.
When Ayla comes of age, she also breaks the Clan taboo against women who wield weapons. This is due in part to the fact that many of the Clan’s duties, tasks, and customs are passed down anciently, which means members must only be shown something once before they master it. Meanwhile, Ayla is at a disadvantage when it comes to the more traditional feminine duties of the community because, like most people, she has to practice something over and over before mastering it.
For this reason, Iza fears that Ayla will never find a husband. To make sure Ayla has a place in the Clan, she begins teaching Ayla her own trade, preparing her to become the group’s next healer if Iza perishes. This is a huge commitment on Iza’s part, as it would be much easier to train her own daughter, Uba. This is because Uba, like her mother Iza, belongs to the ancestral lineage of the most respected medicinal women of all known clans in the world.
Furthermore, some Clan members still do not trust and accept Ayla as one of them. This is especially true for Broud, the narcissistic son of Clan leader Brun. At first, Broud simply doesn’t like Ayla because of the attention she receives. However, as the two mature beyond puberty, their rivalry takes a violent turn when Broud rapes Ayla.
Although Ayla is traumatized by the attack, she is happy to find out that she is pregnant, even if it is with her rapist’s son. After the child is born, Ayla must fight to avoid being taken away, as the Clan considers her baby to be “deformed” because she shares half of Ayla’s genes and is not like the rest of them.
Having barely retained custody of his son, things go from bad to worse when Creb dies and Broud rises to a leadership role. Among his first decrees is to take Ayla’s baby and banish her from the Clan. At the end of the book, Ayla is back where she started: alone and without family.
While the public appreciated Auel’s adventure thread, propelling The Cave Bear Clan to the top of the bestseller list, perhaps the people most frustrated with that commercial success are anthropologists and archaeologists. The problems revolve around the physical descriptions of Auel del Clan, whom she never calls Neanderthals, and her general creation of her culture.
However, the impact of the book on popular culture is undeniable since it achieved massive sales worldwide and generated five more books in the Children of the Earth series.
- “It is better to be an old man than a boy who thinks he is a man.”
- “That appetizer that is hunger helped make everything taste even better.”