2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 1, Chapters 5–6 : Primeval Night | Summary



Chapter 5: Encounter in the Dawn

At dawn, as Moon-Watcher and his people arrive at the river, something is different. The New Rock is gone. The tribe has no recollection of the large crystal or how it had changed them. Yet they are changed. They sneak up on the Others, with Moon-Watcher holding up the severed head of the leopard on a stick. With the impaled leopard-head as a weapon, Moon-Watcher attacks and kills the leader of the Others, One-Ear.

Chapter 6: Ascent of Man

Leaving the tale of Moon-Watcher behind, the narrator describes how a new animal—a new kind of man-ape—began to spread across the face of Africa, and then across the globe. The teeth of these new man-apes change as a result of their new ability to use tools, and their facial bone structure changes. As ice ages come and go, they evolve; this evolution was "an accelerating, cumulative process; and at its end was Man."

Among the most important developments was the ability to use spoken language. This allows them to pass on knowledge from one generation to another and thus to ameliorate some of time's effects. Harnessing the power of fire, refining metals, agriculture, and writing follow. And weaponry, too, develops to the point at which it becomes a threat to human existence.


These chapters introduce and develop the idea of violence as a characteristic of humanity. In Chapter 5 an episode occurs that has a biblical parallel with the story of Cain and Abel. In the biblical narrative Cain is remembered as committing the first murder—the first account of one human's act of lethal violence against another human. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon-Watcher escalates the adversarial relationship between his tribe and One-Ear's tribe from shouting and posturing to killing. Moon-Watcher's murder of his rival, One-Ear, is emphasized as a turning point for the character and for humanity: "Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something." This quote also foreshadows the last lines of the novel.

In Chapter 6 the legacy of this use of weapons against other "tribes" is explored, as humans evolve and develop better weapons to kill one another. Their great success in weaponry is an important part of the setting of the rest of the novel. As the narrator expresses it, through the ages "[t]he spear, the bow, the gun, and finally the guided missile had given him weapons of infinite range and all but infinite power. Without those weapons, often though he had used them against himself, Man would never have conquered his world." But by the time of Discovery's mission, humanity has progressed in its ability to create weapons to the point where the weapons threaten its survival as a whole.

These chapters also highlight the development of language and its importance to human evolution. Language is a "victory over Time," because it allows human stories, thoughts, and knowledge to extend beyond one human's life. The narrator also suggests that language is just the "first" victory, implying that other victories will come.

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