The Clan of the Cave Bear is about the evolution of a new race of humans. Ayla, the protagonist, after a catastrophic earthquake, loses her family and is ‘adopted’ into the ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’. The clan belongs to another, older race of humans, and refers to Ayla and her people as the ‘others’. They are a race verging on extinction with capabilities Ayla does not possess. The novel focuses on Ayla’s adaptation in her new environment (she possesses no memory of her own people) and with people she has nothing in common with, the difficulties in being accepted by her adoptive family, and her urge for survival. She represents the new, more resilient race of humans that were in the end the ones that were to survive. The differences between the two races is dealt with in detail. Ayla, representing the ‘others’ is more intelligent and picks up the ways of the clan quickly; she does not need the ‘memories’ that a clan child is born with. Being an outsider, her fast learning is an asset that helps her to survive in a harsh environment.
Jean Auel continues Ayla’s story in sequels of The Clan of the Cave Bear with the latest novel being The Land of Painted Caves.