‘The Inheritors’ by William Golding is a novel which is entirely out of the ordinary. Set in prehistoric ages, it ponders the idea of what civilisation was like based 50,000 years ago. The novel is not based on purely archaeological and anthropological facts; it merely follows Golding’s personal interpretation of when the homosapien succeeded the Neanderthal. The author’s choice to tell the majority of the novel through Lok’s perspective makes the reader completely involved, as Lok is the less adept of his People, and so we too share his limitations, and because he cannot deduce, we must make our own conclusions through his senses. The final chapter of the novel, however, follows a new angle, allowing the opinions of the homosapiens to be expressed through Tuami, and so in this unique ending, two sides of the story are conveyed, revealing that all is not what it seems. This highlights the key themes of fear of the unknown, co-existence and innocence, and in this essay, I intend to explore how the narrative stance and structure of ‘The Inheritors’ has developed the way I view these issues, in respect to both the novel and life in general.
Although written in third person, it becomes magnified that in the opening chapters, it is Lok’s view-point that shall be expressed to the readers. Not only is this clear from the opening sentence, which plunges straight into his action “Lok was running”, but it is suggested in a more subtle way; it is Lok who first encounters trouble “the grin faded and his mouth opened till the lower lip hung down”, it is his disbelief of the situation which is conveyed “he shut his eyes and frowned at the picture of the log” and it is he who distracts the reader’s attention by playing with Liku.
From the image of a somewhat oafish being which is illustrated, with his “chestnut curls” running “down his spine”, and his inability to distinguish between body and mind, it becomes apparent through Lok that this is a society very different to the present day. However, through the community’s perception of Lok, it can be deduced that he is the less adept of the adults. The fact that he should lose concentration on the problem presented to them causes Fa to be “frowning again”, showing contrasts in maturity, and when she tells Ha “you have more pictures in your head than Lok”, it is noticeable that not only is Lok of lower intelligence than these two, but is generally regarded with low rank amongst his people. It can now be acknowledged that we, as readers, are trusting someone who can perceive for us, but not understand, and so our own power of deduction must be used.
The Neanderthals’ world, where the people feel no shame in their naked bodies, and where their bonds with nature “Lok patted the dead tree affectionately” are as strong as the “strings” which bind them together, suggests a vision of utopia. This becomes increasingly significant, as it is the opening chapters which convey the nature of these People, and can be viewed as Golding’s interpretation of the Garden of Eden, which relates of course to the fact that like Adam and Eve, Lok and Fa are also later led into temptation, and thus the corruption of innocence.
However, though the innocence of Lok’s People is conveyed, the importance of the opening chapters is that through Lok, they convey how the community live through their senses, yet lack the ability to deduce or reason. At the first encounter of trouble, Lok can recognise that the communal log has been moved, yet his personification of “The log has gone away” conveys how he could imagine the log removing itself, but he cannot comprehend somebody else moving it; the concept of there being ‘others’ is entirely foreign to he and his people, as can be seen in their “complete incomprehension”. As readers however, we must use our own reasoning powers to recognise the presence of the ‘New People’, and this becomes increasingly clear as more evidence accumulates; the smoke which distressed Lok could not have been made without fire, and the disappearance of Ha was not an accident.
Lok’s determination to abolish change within his community is perhaps one of his greatest strengths; he thrives for his people to exist. This can be seen at its greatest when Lok wishes to retrieve Ha from the ‘other’, in chapter four. Unable to accept that he is dead, Lok announces, “I have a picture of Ha. I will find him.”
His intentions are honourable, yet his ignorance is still clear, as he exclaims “there is no other in the world” and as he offers the innocent explanation that the other has led Ha to safety, and proves his trusting nature when he ironically claims “people understand each other”. Yet the consequences of venturing off alone prove fatal to Lok, as when the Old Woman passes without noticing him, Lok notices for the first time in his life that he is not working as a member of a team, but as an individual. This alienation terrifies him, and he manages to recognise the deterioration of his own people, and can finally connect this to the new people “the other had tugged at the strings that bound him to Fa and Mal and Liku and the rest of the people. The strings were not the ornament of life but its substance. If they broke, a man would die.” This is entirely significant to the character of Lok, as it is the first time that he has actually recognised the danger his people are in, and allows the reader to recognise just how important the closeness of the People as, as without their bonds, they cannot function.
Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 highlight the importance and the cunning manipulation of Golding’s use of narrative stance, as Lok and Fa observe from the dead tree, and so an objective stance is used. Because Lok has never encountered such features of Man, and cannot understand the differences, the New People are referred to as “incomprehensibly strange”. The use of similes to describe the hairstyles of the homosapien enables the reader to picture these people for themselves “a pine-tree of hair that stood straight up so that his head, already too long, was drawn as though something were pulling it up-ward without mercy”.
The greatness of Lok’s descriptions is something which often goes unnoticed and unappreciated, as on first glimpse they appear very basic and simple; noses become ” a piece of white bone” and beards become “a little dark hair jutting out under the slit”. Yet the way in which Golding has captured such basic thought patterns and translated them into words is enthralling; for the reader to have to become so involved as to be able to understand these images shows just how effectively the author is conveying the primitive perceptions of the Neanderthal. The narrative style becomes increasingly important to this point in the novel, as there is very little author intervention, yet there are glimpses of intervention from Fa, whose intellectual awareness is dominant to Lok’s. The fact that she should recognise what happens to Liku means the reader is also able to, yet because Lok cannot deduce, and we are aware of her desire to shield him from the truth, this becomes an entirely poignant moment.
On being forced to solitary confinement after losing Fa in chapter 10, Lok is also forced to progress mentally, and in doing so, he discovers “like”, and can now “use likeness as a tool”. This enables both he and the reader to draw comparisons between objects he previously had merged together; while previously he believed “fungi on a tree were ears”, he now can recognise that they are not ears, but they do resemble them. This proves to be very meaningful, as now Lok can distinguish the differences between the two colonisations, both mentally and physically, and can see that “they were thinkable and not a random and unrelated irruption”. This ability to draw comparisons allows Lok to make the vital realizations that the New People are not the same as his own, and are in fact, dangerous, like a “famished wolf”, both savage and deadly. While Lok can also recognise their positive traits, he also compares them to the Fall “they are a people of the fall; nothing stands against them”, and this suggests how he fears their empowering nature. Yet the boldest conclusion that Lok can deduce for the reader is that “The are like Oa”, signifying how the homosapiens control life, and they control fear. Although Lok is forced to come to understanding purely due to his circumstance, it is important to the reader that he does, as it allows for a broader understanding of the differences between these two civilisations, on a much larger scale than just good versus evil.
After the demise of Fa, a change of narrative perspective can be seen to a neutral stance “the red creature stood on the edge of the terrace and did nothing”. Though the last chapter must be read to fully understand this, the “red creature” which is referred to is Lok, this is the first time that he or his actions have ever been described to the reader. The repetition of the impersonal pronoun “it” in Chapter Eleven is an alienation technique that Golding has used to emphasise not only the loneliness and sorrow displayed by Lok, but to show that he is the last remaining Neanderthal, and to emphasise the decline of their community. Such a technique is thought-provoking, as for the first time in the novel, the author wants us to see through our own eyes, and not Lok’s.
The first description of Lok vividly displays what this “red beast” looks like, and from the anthropological image created, it can be interpreted just how animalistic the Neanderthal was in comparison to the Homosapien. To emphasise just how vast these contrasts are, Lok is now referred rhetorically as “the creature”, making him seem less and less adept. His replication of Mal’s death, curled up in the foetal position relates back to his rejection of change, but also evokes sympathy as it shows Lok’s values and intentions cannot survive in this new world of fear and mistrust, and without the love of his People, neither can he. The natural metaphor of the “sudden tremendous noise” suggests the melting of the ice age, representing not only the end of the Neanderthals and Oa, but the end of an era, and most significantly, the end of innocence.
The third change of stance to Tuami’s perspective occurs in the final chapter, and similarly to the first chapter, this can be observed in the initial sentence “Tuami sat in the stern of the dug-out…” This proves to be integral to the novel, as it not only shows the reoccurring theme of echoes, but also highlights the similarities between the two characters. From Lok’s previous observations, it can be deduced that Tuami is a member of the homosapien tribe, who is highly regarded for his art skills, and so his values represent that of the typical homosapien. Yet it becomes increasingly apparent that there is a degree of unease in the atmosphere, highlighted as Tuami reflects on how the rocks of the island are now “haunted”, and how he feels a “strange irrational grief”. The ‘devil’ referred to by the new people is Lok. This is not only ironic because of Lok’s genuine, and in some respects, holy behaviour, but because it is actually the new people who, up until this point, have been portrayed as evil, particularly in the dark allusions cast in Chapter Ten, with Lok’s connection to hell when he claims “there was nothing warm and comfortable about this fire…the people were like the fire”.
Prior to Chapter 12, the reader had only been engaged with the viewpoint of Lok, and so in some respects had been manipulated into fully sympathising with his people. Chapter 12 does not justify the actions of the homosapiens, but it does portray the remorse and confusion which is being encountered for the first time, and so now relates them to the reader and takes an unbiased approach towards the themes of prejudice and co-existence. Because of Tuami’s regretful tone, and his realization that the cultivations could coincide as “a password” and that to create is a more powerful than to destroy, which is deducted from his question “what use was sharpening a point against the world”, the outcome of the novel now has a sense of optimism for this new generation of Man.
Yet with this optimism comes scepticism, and it is in fact the closing sentence of the novel “…he could not see if the line of darkness had an ending” which is possibly the most significant, as it shows how not only is Tuami unable to foresee the future on the horizon, but it also conveys how he has internalised this image, and cannot see if indeed the darkness within himself has an ending either. Golding’s use of style when writing through Tuami’s perspective is what makes this final chapter so powerful, as the use of rhetorical questions amongst the New People highlight the themes of guilt and regret, while the metaphorical imagery of water “it was far away and there was lots of water between them” stresses the divide. These images successfully shed light over the natural diversities, yet through Tuami, the reader can also apprehend the concluding theme of hope.
It is also important to mention the relevance of the structure of ‘The Inheritors’. According to Genesis, the world was created in six days; ‘The Inheritors’ shows the world being ‘destroyed’ in six days. This connection was no coincidence; Golding chose to mirror Christianity’s view of the creation of Earth for the same reasons that he chose to use the other religious connotations; the matriarchal religion of the Neanderthal, the surroundings which replicate the Garden of Eden, the way in which Lok and Fa are led into temptation by the mannerisms of the New People. The religious aspect of this novel becomes a major contribution into highlighting the innocence of the People, and how this can be taken away by selfish traits and a lack of understanding. It stresses the contrasts between the two communities, yet as the homosapiens are sailing away, it helps the reader to understand that where there is faith, there is hope for understanding and that in life we must look past imperfections and differences in order to co-exist in harmony, not only with other races, but with ourselves, as indeed, we as humans can relate the most to the homosapien.
The structure is also intriguing because of the journeys which it takes us on. Literally, we see the Neanderthals moving from winter to summer headquarters, yet metaphorically we find out that this shall be the last journey their people make, and we learn the importance of their communal bond as they encounter their first signs of trouble. With the progression of the novel, we see their decline as the New People dominate their land and diminish their people, one by one, yet in doing so we not only learn about the homosapiens’ flaws, but also their strengths. We are also taken on Lok’s discovery of self-development, as he begins to recognise an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ Lok, yet in the final chapter, we are also made aware of Tuami’s self-development, as he realises the error of his people’s materialistic ways, and as he begins to ponder of a future with new values.
In conclusion, the narrative stance and the structure of ‘The Inheritors’ have played a great impact on my understanding of the central concerns of the novel. Indeed having read a majority of the novel through the perspective of Lok, the genuine innocence of the Neanderthal community becomes apparent, and this presence of innocence becomes all the more clear as it is abused and corrupted by the opposing cultivation. Typically, this should have meant that the New People should be regarded as the epitome of evil, but because their perspective was offered before the conclusion of the novel, and because Tuami’s words were of regret and not honour, the reader has to realise that they too have become a victim of prejudice. It is this fear of the unknown which evoked the actions of the New People, and although this does not justify the demise of the Neanderthal, it has taught me a valuable lesson about how to respond to something which you do not understand.
Above all, co-existence is a dominant theme in ‘The Inheritors’ as it shows us that the homosapiens proved incapable of living as neighbours with a different race, but that our society is capable, and that we should learn from their mistakes. The novel’s stance and structure is fundamentally integral in the understanding of the central themes of the novel, as it not only shows the self-development of these opposing communities, but also takes the reader on a journey of self discovery. Above all, this is why I feel it has aided my awareness of these issues in both the novel, and my life in general.