Across Golding’s novels and other writings, the diversity of his female characters is often surprising. For example, there is the tragic Bounce in The Pyramid, the duplicitous Sophy in Darkness Visible, goddess-in-waiting Arieka in The Double Tongue, and my absolute favourite, Fa, from The Inheritors.
Fa is resourceful, fearless and undoubtedly the quiet heroine in the challenging and mostly silent world of the Neanderthals. While main protagonist, and Fa’s partner, Lok, fools around chattering, Fa is busy working out that shells could be used for transporting water: ‘I have a picture of the people emptying the shells by the sea’. In addition, Fa almost invents the concept of gardening when she imagines plants growing near the waterfall: ‘The good food is growing. Not here. It is growing by the fall’. Lok is unable to perceive Fa’s image of planting their own food, and he laughs at her seemingly-impossible idea. Later, despite Lok’s view that it is ‘a man for pictures’, Fa is the only person who is able to visualise the fate of Ha in the battle against the New People.
During the final confrontation between the Neanderthals and the Homo Sapiens, it is Fa who takes charge. She realises that they are under attack by arrows and tells Lok that he must:
“Do what I say. Do not say: “Fa do this”. I will say: “Lok do this”. I have many pictures.”
They are finally able to cross the river thanks to Fa’s suggestion that they use the log, and they find the New People’s camp. Fa and Lok gaze upon the humans with a mixture of fascination and fear and she comes up with a plan to rescue the captured baby, and their daughter, Liku. Fa protects Lok from seeing the awful fate of Liku, but she is still determined to rescue the baby, even though she is injured from the previous attempt. One of Fa’s last desperate actions sees her baring her teeth at the group of men with weapons; a moment of rebellion in an unwinnable war.
Fa’s ferocity and intelligence make her one of the strongest, and most interesting, characters in Golding’s novels – female or otherwise.
Fa ran to and fro between the cliffs making silent mouths at Lok and showing her teeth but he would not leave her. At last she gave up and ignored him. She padded up the gully and Lok followed her, his teeth rattling in his cold.