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Review of the Books: The Inheritors

Updated on December 11, 2012

The Inheritors

William Golding is probably best known for his debut novel The Lord of the Flies, a book about a group of kids stranded on an island who decide to govern themselves. The end result of that novel is a disaster. Despite the ending, that book offers a look at the idea of the common good vs individual welfare.

In his second book, The Inheritors, the novel follows one of the last group of neanderthal tribes in existence as they first come into contact with homo sapiens. Golding continues his examination of human nature, focusing on early human history, from the perspective of another species.

Hailed as a masterpiece when it was originally released, and considered by William Golding to be the best novel he ever wrote, The Inheritors is a classic that isn't talked about as much as it should be.

Grade A 9.5/10


The Inheritors Plot Summary

The Inheritors follows a band of eight neanderthals. The story primarily focuses on Lok, his partner Fa, and their daughter Liku. The other neanderthals in their tribe are presumably led by Old Woman and Mal, the two oldest members of the group, and they are accompanied by another neanderthal couple, Nil and Ha, and their newborn baby called The New One.

As the novel progresses we see a lot of positive qualities often associated with humans being attributed to the neanderthals. The neanderthals bury their dead, one of them is able to make fire, they pray to a God, they have family units, and they have a strong emotional attachment to one another. The reader can see that the neanderthals are intelligent and caring creatures.

As the neanderthals come into contact with primitive homo sapiens we see the real humans who possess a lot of not so positive human qualities. The humans have a great fear of the neanderthals, but they also possess tremendous intellect; building sophisticated weapons, camps, boats, and other technologically advanced devices that the neanderthals would never have been able to create.

Conflict between the neanderthals and homo sapiens is inevitable and in a competitive world the neanderthals look terribly outmatched.

Additional Information About The Inheritors

Author
William Golding
Published
1955
Country of Origin
United Kingdom
Original Language
English
Genre
Fiction
Setting
During the time of primitive humans.
Narration
Mostly in 3rd Person from Lok's perspective and one 3rd person chapter from the perspective of Tuami, 2nd in command of the Homo sapiens.
Pages
233 (softcover)
Awards
William Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983 for his life's work in writing.

Positive Qualities of The Inheritors

The Inheritors sets up the reader into believing that the neanderthals could possibly be primitive human beings. However, as the novel progresses it becomes more and more apparent that they are not. By being ambiguous about whether or not the neanderthals are humans at the beginning of the novel; the book allows readers to sympathize much more with the neanderthals in this novel, rather than their own species, homo sapiens.

One of the greatest qualities and ironies about this book is that readers are being encouraged by the author to cheer against their own species of homo sapiens. The author makes you empathize with the neanderthals so much you want them to succeed, survive, and persevere against their human counterparts. In the art of storytelling this is something that is rarely done, and if it is done, getting the kind of empathy that Golding gives to his neanderthals must have been an extraordinarily difficult feat to pull off.

The neanderthals also possess a lot of qualities that can be associated with spirituality while the homo sapiens possess a lot of qualities associated with thinking too much, which is the opposite mentality of spirituality. This sets up the conflict between the intellectual and the spiritual. The neanderthals in Golding's novel may appear to have some slight telepathic ways of communicating with each other. Throughout the novel Golding frequently uses the phrase, seeing pictures, as the main way the neanderthals communicate with one another.

Nevertheless the neanderthals are frequently living in the present, a lifestyle that is often associated with spirituality. The homo sapiens don't live in the present, and instead are preparing for the future or fearing the past, a set of traits associated with thinking too much.

Issues With The Inheritors

Like Lord of the Flies, the Inheritors can get a bit dry with its characterizations and emotional content. The concept of Golding's novel is a concept that could be filled with pathos, but ultimately Golding does not fulfill all of the emotional possibilities that this novel could provide. This aspect of Golding's writing can be frustrating, especially when you read the premise of the novel.

Although, this may be a stylistic choice on Golding's part in order to make his novel more philosophical, the novel's dryness can get to you sometimes. This not to say the novel is devoid of emotion, but rather more of it is expected at times.

The Inheritors is Recommended To

This book has a cynical take on humanity, so if you like novels that are dark then this would be a great novel to read. Even if you don't like dark novels, the way this novel commentates on the nature of humanity and the spiritual nature of the neanderthals makes for compelling social commentary that is still relevant to this present day.

The Inheritors is a great book with a lot of dark content. The homo sapiens, or our primitive ancestors, don't give humans a lot to hope for in the future. The title of this book, plus knowing what destruction humans have been capable of throughout their history, makes predicting the outcome of this novel fairly easy. Despite the predictability of the plot, The Inheritors is still incredibly compelling, its like watching two trains heading towards one another on the same track, you know what's going to happen, but you can't turn your head the other way.

An Exerpt From The Inheritors

As the novel pushes homo sapiens and neanderthals closer together, Lok, the primary neanderthal narrator finally gets a close up view of early homo sapiens. He describes them in the following way:

"The new people did not move like anything he had ever seen before. They were balanced on top of their legs, their waists were so wasp-thin that when they moved their bodies swayed backwards and forwards. They did not look at the earth but straight ahead. And they were not merely hungry. Lok knew famine when he saw it. The new people were dying. The flesh was sunken to their bones as Mal's flesh had sunken. Their movements, though they had in their bodies the bending grace of a young bough, were dream-slow. They walked upright and they should be dead. It was as though something that Lok could not see were supporting them, holding up their heads, thrusting them slowly and irresistibly forward. Lok knew that if he were as thin as they, he would be dead already." - William Golding, The Inheritors

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