2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 1, Chapters 3–4 : Primeval Night | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3: Academy

Moon-Watcher and his tribe do not recall the incident with the New Rock, and since it is not food, they ignore it the next day. But that night it again attracts some of the man-apes to it, including Moon-Watcher. The New Rock gives Moon-Watcher a vision of a well-fed and satisfied family, and although he forgets it quickly after the New Rock releases the spell, he experiences a feeling of dissatisfaction later that night. Moon-Watcher receives the same vision night after night. After several days of the same vision, Moon-Watcher's vision changes slightly and becomes "extraordinary." Shortly after this change, Moon-Watcher kills a wild pig with a stone, and one of the females discovers that the dead animal is good for food.

Chapter 4: The Leopard

Along with stones and bone clubs for hunting, Moon-Watcher and his tribe develop other tools as a result of the New Rock's teaching, including knives, scrapers, and saws made of bone. After a year of this new way of living, the people have learned to hunt a variety of animals, and no longer die regularly from starvation. This, the narrator says, gives them time for leisure and the "first rudiments of thought."

One day, Moon-Watcher decides to take a dead antelope back to the shelter to allow people to eat it there. That night, attracted by the carcass, the leopard comes into the cave. Terrified, the people attack, beating the leopard and forcing it off a cliff. In the morning, the people find the dead leopard and eat it.

Analysis

In these chapters, the novel begins to reveal the changes that come about in Moon-Watcher's tribe as a result of the New Rock's influence. If the man-apes already had the seeds of humanity inside of them, what do they gain from the New Rock? Importantly, the New Rock gives them an understanding of hunting. It teaches them to use materials they can easily find as tools for hunting and preparing the animal carcasses for eating—rocks and bones. This gives the man-apes a greater chance of survival, because their food supply is not as narrow. And as a result of this new, more stable, food supply, the man-apes have time to think about something other than the barest means of surviving.

But perhaps even more important than the skills taught by the New Rock is the way it sows discontent. Moon-Watcher isn't simply given tools and shown how to hunt, he is given an image of a fat, satisfied creature that looks something like himself. This image sparks in him a sense of envy and dissatisfaction, a discontent the narrator asserts is "one small step toward humanity." And so, along with the skills and tools needed for hunting, the New Rock gives a reason—a motivation—for hunting. This is crucial to understanding the themes of the text. It is not the ability to create technology that is a defining characteristic of humanity. It is also restlessness and drive to use technology that are ultimately "human" traits.

After this small step toward humanity—both the ability to hunt and the dissatisfaction that leads to the desire to do so—Moon-Watcher's people make another small step. They use weapons not only for hunting prey, but for protecting themselves from a predator. This elevates their position in the food chain. They are not just a predator, but a top predator.

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