Places: The Inheritors

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1955

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Paleolithic period

Places DiscussedRiver crossing

River Inheritors, Thecrossing. The first appearance of a family of Neanderthals occurs during their spring migration when they reach a river crossing and discover that an old fallen tree that long provided a bridge across the river is now gone. Their belief that the tree has somehow decided to go away, provides the first glimpse of the Neanderthal world view. Their ability to move another fallen tree into position to fashion a bridge shows their limited ability to manipulate nature and to learn. At the same time, the fact that old Mal falls into the river and catches a chill that later kills him also demonstrates the dangers of the world in which the Neanderthals live. Later, the moment when Lok returns to the crossing and finds the new bridge is gone provides one of the first inklings of the malign influence of the new race of humans.


Cave. Rudimentary shelter provided by an overhang on a cliff that is a summer home for the Neanderthals. Their sense of coming home when they arrive at the cave is palpable, and each member of the family group has a regular place within the cave. It is here that Mal dies, despite being cared for by the whole group, and he is buried by the fire. This scene demonstrates not only the gentleness of the Neanderthals, but also their sense of ritual and belonging, which they themselves cannot fully articulate.

The moment the newcomers raid the Neanderthal cave, killing two members of the family, not only marks the intrusion of violence into the family but also symbolizes the destruction of the Neanderthals’ world. Once their carefully nurtured fire has been extinguished, they have no home left.


Island. Island in the river that the Neanderthals cannot reach because they are afraid of crossing water. However, the new race of humans are more sophisticated tool users and fashion boats from hollowed-out tree trunks that they use to make the island their first camp. The island therefore becomes a symbol of the technological superiority of the new people, as well as the threat they pose to the Neanderthals.

When two of the Neanderthals manage to get onto the island, they see many of the things that will help the new people conquer the world: They wear clothing, build rudimentary huts, practice organized rituals and dances, and use alcohol. Above all, they exhibit the beginnings of social organization, with the emergence of figures who might be formal leaders or shamans. None of these things is known to the Neanderthals, and in the long scene in which the two primitive groups are contrasted Golding shows not only the beginnings of modern human society, but also a moment in which innocence is lost–a recurrent theme in his fiction.

BibliographyDick, Bernard F. William Golding. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987. The chapter on The Inheritors views it mainly in the light of Golding’s recurring theme of the Fall. Selected bibliography and index.Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: Macmillan, 1988. Contains an excellent introduction and a full yet economic reading of The Inheritors. Gindin sees the novel achieving something of myth, but ultimately having a unique status of its own. Selected bibliography and index.Kinkead-Weekes, Mark, and Ian Gregor. William Golding: A Critical Study. Rev. ed. Winchester, Mass.: Faber & Faber, 1984. Contains an early essay on the novel (1967) that is one of the most perceptive. Discusses the technical problems facing Golding.Oldsey, Berard S., and Stanley Weintraub. The Art of William Golding. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965. Another early introductory study on Golding, with a chapter on each of the early novels. In the chapter on The Inheritors, the concept of evolution is the focus.Redpath, Philip. William Golding: A Structural Reading of His Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986. Takes a structural approach to The Inheritors, seeing the novel’s structure as circular, moving away from any simplistic good-bad antithesis.
Categories: Places