The Inheritors: Analysis of the Book

Categories: BooksHuman


This analytical essay presents an in-depth analysis of the book The Inheritors, which was written by William Golding. The bibliography appends one source in APA format.


“Golding favored this work above all his others. Many have agreed that his account of the final defeat of the last Neanderthal individuals at the hands of the emergent human race is powerfully and above all consistently imagined. The triumphs and disasters of the future are tragically implicit in this evocation of the conquest of an earlier, gentler group by those who are – for good and ill — our ancestors”.


William Golding was one of the most significant novelists of the 1950s and the 1960s. Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1983 and he also won the Booker Prize in the year 1980. “The Inheritors” is a well-known book written by William Golding, who is the author of the famous novel Lord of the Flies. Written in the year 1955, the book is based on Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and basically shows the inherent violent nature of the Homo sapiens.

The novel is about the last of the Neanderthals and how the Homo sapiens gained success over them by the use of brutality and pretense with their natural superiority.

The Neanderthals have been shown as very simple people, whose most prominent characteristic is that they think in images. In their world, understanding someone meant being able to see their picture. Also, in their highly amusing world, fire and water have the ability to be awake or fall asleep and even a log decides where and how to place itself in the water.

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As the author says, “He had thought that he must make sure the log was still in position because if the water had taken the log or if the log had crawled of on business of its own then the people would have to trek a day’s journey round the swamp and that meant danger or even more discomfort than usual” (Golding, p.12).

The books written by William Golding are all based on the depravity of the human mind and nature. The Inheritors is one of those books. In the novel the author has brilliantly through his imagination recreated the world of the Neanderthals and of the successors of the Neanderthals, that is, the first of the human species. As mentioned above The Inheritors was the personal favorite of William Golding out of all his books and novels, and is related to the disappearance of the last of the Neanderthals by the hands of the much more refined and newly advanced species known as the Homo sapiens.

Primary Ideas of the Reading

“His novels…with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world today”  Sweidsh Academy Nobel Prize Citation

The Inheritors is a novel written by William Golding as an imaginative reconstruction of the life of a group og Neanderthals. William Golding in this novel takes the readers for a journey through the world of the primitive men and the world is such that is seen by the eyes, visions, and up-and-coming language expressions of the first of the humans. The characters have been drawn by the author rather very sensitively, covering each and every characteristic of theirs. In the novel, the language of the Neanderthals is limited to images or pictures, which they form in their mind. For example, in the words of the author, “He shut his eyes and frowned at the picture of the log” (Golding, p.12).

The Neanderthals were highly dependant on their senses. They used them to detect intruders and to assure safety, As the author writes, “Then he searched the forest with ear and nose for intruders and only when he was sure of safety did he put down his thorn bush and kneel by the water” (Golding, p.12). The mental images of theirs are used by the Neanderthals to show them the way to food, their seasonal homes and to save them from possible dangers. The descriptions that have been given by the author are very precise. Marvelously defined are the surroundings and feelings of all the characters.

Cold, drenched, starving, reliance on a sense of smell, stones for armaments, hyenas indicating a kill for the group of our most primitive ancestors to steal, and a blossoming plant intertwined forest of the early spring abounding with a mystical ice woman to be worshipped. This block of ice known as Oa is worshipped and awed by the whole of the tribe of Neanderthals. The book has been written by the author in such a way that at times one begins to consider the Neanderthals as the Homo sapiens. The Neanderthals are portrayed as characters, which do not talk but only gesture to each other, form images in their mind and carry out the burial of their dead with heartfelt, solemn rituals.

There are only eight of the remaining Neanderthals in the story, out of which there are six adults and a small girl and an infant. The tribal clan is led by a Neanderthal namely Lok. The story begins with a pair of Neanderthals who witness the death of a number of people of their group, which later proceeds on to the the kidnap of the infant neandethral. The parents of the infant neandethral begin observing the human species that live on a river island (and are scared of Neandethrals as they consider them demons of the forest). The neandethrals have their own religious rituals and while observing the humans through the tress they find out that the humans have completely different rituals.

The religious activities of the Neandethrals are centered around Oa, the block of ice, while the activites of the Homo sapiens were centered around a female matriarch-priestess. The humans live across the river and the Neandethrals are extremely scared of crossing the water due to the fact that they cannot swim hence they are very scared to walk through the water to save their daughter. The homo sapiens have captured the daughter of the Neandethrals because their priestess wishes to keep her as her pet as she fancies the red her and the childish features of the infant. The new people, that is the homo sapiens are extremely different.

The new people have already built boats, have weapons such as bows and arrows, have a very complex way of life and live rather sophisticated lives, know how to ferment honey into had used the bow-and-arrow as a formidable weapon, developed a more complex social structure, knew how to ferment honey into liquor, and also know of ways to protect themselves from h armful elements. These two groups of people have no single thing common between each other and do not gain anything common by the end of the novel.

The new people, that is the homo sapiens have brought along with them art, war, lust, intoxication etc and eventually a battle takes place between them in order to see who the superior power is or that who has the ability to survive in the long run and who has the dominating power. A number of kidnaps as well as murders take place, but after all, humans with their treachery and sharp minds take over the Neanderthals and wipe them off the surface of earth. The Neanderthals had long before accepted the fact that the new species that is the Homo sapiens have such knowledge, wisdom, and weapons, control over the elements etc that the simpler species that is the Neanderthals would face nothing but doom at their hand.

Reflection of the time in which the reading was produced

The Inheritors was written in the year 1955. By then, the general perception related to the first humans was that the Neanderthals had become distinct and they disappeared because of the fact that they fell in love with their beautiful human neighbors, that is the Homo sapiens. However, The Inheritors shows us a completely different picture. The book was written at a time when nearly nothing was known of the days when Neanderthals walked on earth.

Back then, no research what so ever had been conducted regarding the period of the Neanderthals and the first humans and the way the humans had taken over the Neanderthals. It was in the 1950s that it was found that the primitive people, the first Homo Sapien had come up with a way to cross the water and not drown. This was a time when nothing was known of our ancestors, their society, their social lives, their characteristics, their features and all of this had to be brought out into the open so that we may realize just what we used to be and what we are now – sadly, there is not much of a difference.

When one goes through the book under consideration, that is, The Inheritors, he or she gets to see his ancestors. The ancestors, who had already made weapons, were extremely ignorant, had the tendency to kill for their own good and were completely corrupt. It was believed back then (when the book was written) from what little was known about the Neanderthals that the Homo sapiens were superior to the Neanderthals. This according to Golding was untrue. The Homo sapiens were not superior in anyway what so ever. What the Homo sapiens were was more evil and clever.

While going through the book today, we see a part of the current humans in the Homo sapiens of the first kind. There are extreme similarities between us and the Homo sapiens that have been portrayed by Golding in his book. The novel has been written about a time when the Neanderthals were disappearing and a new much cleverer and well-occupied kind of man came into being. These men were the Homo sapiens and they were none other than our ancestors. The Neanderthals were disappearing because of the Homo sapiens as they were gaining power over the land. Back then, the Homo sapiens killed the Neanderthals and today humans are killing off each other, which proves that man has not changed at all since then.

Personal Response to the Reading

In the book we see a group of Neanderthals (they did not have family relations) who lived a peaceful life in their own world. Changes in the climate, the arrival of the Homo sapiens on the other side of the river along with certain bad omens from their God have upset them. The changes in the current environment is upsetting them because of the fact that they are not at all equipped to handle the changes that are taking place and all they have is the knowledge that they have inherited from their ancestors and completely lack in creative abilities and skills unlike the Homo sapiens who have equipped themselves with all it takes to counter the changing environment and are not at all afraid of the elements.

These newcomers or the Homo sapiens have been portrayed as very clever, quick-witted beings that unlike the Neanderthals have a language and they also take up violence in order to get what they want. They notice that the Homo sapiens were armed with bows and arrows along with sharp tools that were made out of bone and they could cross the river without drowning by the use of rowing logs (boats). My personal response to the reading is that the book is very interesting although highly confusing as well. But no matter what, the book is very absorbing and it also presents us with an insight into the social life of the humans as to how humans can survive with only the earth as a guide for them to live.

I believe that the story is somehow a bit disturbing, as it reveals the truth about our ancestors and it is rather hurtful to know that it was our ancestors, who were among the first to begin manslaughter. It is disturbing to find out that our ancestors were the ones who destroyed an entire species. This notion makes the reader feel very sympathetic towards the Neanderthals and it shows that the weak or the submissive people are not the inheritors of earth. They somehow, struggle to put up with the changing circumstances and we further see them failing badly.

This piece of writing shows us the darkness that exists in the heart of the humans since the very beginning. It shows that the history of mankind is full of violence and barbaric acts that have been carried out against the innocent. Perhaps, the author is trying to show the two sides of a human beings nature. The innocent and caring nature of the Neanderthal symbolizing the love that perhaps every human has locked up deep within himself and the violent nature of the Homo sapiens depicting the darker side of a human being. The Neanderthals were very simple and believed in even a wooden log having its own will.

They talked in pictures and thoughts. They believed in water being alive and awake or asleep. As the writer says, “the water was not awake like the river or the fall but asleep, spreading there to the river and waking up, stretching on the right into wildernesses of impassable swamp and thicket and bog. So sure was he of this log the people always used that he opened his eyes again, beginning to smile as if he were waking out of a dream; but the log was gone” (Golding, p.12).

The only idea that I personally disagree with is that of telepathy between the Neanderthals. The story tells us that they did have the ability to talk, but they did not do so. Another aspect of the book which can cause problems for a reader is the fact that it is written completely from the point of view of Lok, hence certain things about the going-on’s are somehow confusing as it lacks clarity. At times one does not even know as to what is going on. But all in all, the entire book is very interesting and it lets a person learn much about they ways of his or her ancestors. The book is very enlightening and the fact that it is disturbing can be ignored in order to learn the truth about history and primitive men.


In the light of the above discussion we can hereby culminate that the book under consideration, that is, The Inheritors was written by William Golding. The book was penned down by the author in the year 1955 after his extremely famous novel known as Lord of the Flies. The basic theme of the book is to educate the people about their ancestors that are the first of the Homo sapiens and the ways by which they took over the Neanderthals who were the last of their kind.

The Neanderthals were simple, caring yet curious, while the Homo sapiens were clever, quick-witted, could cheat and commit treachery and could also get violent in order to get what they want. Eventually the Homo sapiens finished off the last generation of Neanderthals and took over the earth, or in other words, became the inheritors of earth. The book is at times very disturbing but all in all it is a good read as it tells us of the ways of our ancestors, which still prevail in our society and makes one think as to why we have not changed at all in all these years.


Golding, W. (1955). The Inheritors. United Kingdom. Harvest Books. ISBN: 0156443791. Page 12

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