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Herland Essay Research Paper Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Herland Essay, Research Paper Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel, Herland, written in 1915, is a utopian, feminist, fantasy. It first appeared as a serial in Gilman’s magazine, The Forerunner, and did not appear as a book until 1979. Gilman was a forerunner herself. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is considered by many to be one of the most important female social economists, feminists, and sociologists of her time.

Herland Essay, Research Paper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel, Herland, written in 1915, is a utopian, feminist, fantasy. It first appeared as a serial in Gilman’s magazine, The Forerunner, and did not appear as a book until 1979. Gilman was a forerunner herself. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is considered by many to be one of the most important female social economists, feminists, and sociologists of her time. Yet, her name is almost unknown or rather, excluded from many historical and sociological accounts. This is despite the fact that in the first two decades of the twentieth century, her books went through numerous editions and were translated into at least seven foreign languages.

Gilman, was a strong believer in women’s economic independence and was a serious critic of history and society. She attempted to create a cohesive body of thought that combined feminism and socialism, even in her fictional tales.

Herland was one of several fictional accounts written by Gilman using the same themes. She suggests the kind of world that she herself would have liked to have seen. Nearly one hundred years later, her stories still address the problems that are relevant today; they focus on children and their needs, on motherhood, and on redefining the roles of both men and women in society.

Herland begins on the eve of World War I, when three American male explorers stumble onto an all-female society somewhere in the distant corners of the earth. The men, unable to believe their own eyes, set out to find the men of the society, convinced that,

since “this is a civilized country, there must be men” (Herland, p. 11). However, as these men soon find out, women have created a utopia without men at all.

Gilman writes a story where women are descended by parthenogenesis from an aboriginal virgin mother, and are isolated from the rest of the world by treacherous cliffs. They build a civilization reflecting the special talents of women free of male domination. In Herland, society is shaped by maternity, or motherhood. Motherhood is viewed almost as if it were a religion, it is considered a privilege to become a mother. “They lost all interest in deities of war and plunder, and gradually centered on their Mother Goddess altogether” (Herland, p. 59).

They practiced “negative eugenics,”. As Van says, “we are commonly willing to lay down our lives for our country, but they had to forego motherhood for their country- and it was precisely the hardest thing for them to do” (Herland, p. 69).

In Herland, the women all live collectively, and the concept of a private home is alien to them. The children are reared communally, as in the modern Israeli Kibbutz. Indeed “the children in this country are its one center and focus” (Herland, p. 60).

Everything is built collaboratively, the buildings, the gardens, the schools, are all perfect. As Vandyck observed, “everything was beauty, order, perfect cleanness, and the pleasantest sense of home all over it” (Herland, p. 19).

What is most appealing about to me about Herland is the different concept of motherliness. As the character Van explains, “it is a motherliness which dominated society,

which influenced every art and industry, which absolutely protected all childhood, and gave it the most perfect care and training” (Herland, p. 73).

From this concept of society, all are able to live to their fullest potential. Without the limitations that are put on women in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s time, as well as our own, all of these women were encouraged to pursue work that they were suited to. If a child in Herland showed an aptitude for something, or enjoyed something, that skill was nourished and developed. This to me, is truly a utopian concept. As Ellador explains it, “here is a young human being. The mind is as natural a thing as the body, a thing that grows, a thing to use and enjoy. We seek to nourish, to stimulate, to exercise the mind of a child as we do the body” (Herland, p. 104).

I also like Gilman’s use of humor, particularly in the Character of “Terry” to dispel common myths about women’s roles, women’s characteristics, and women’s stereotypical behavior. Terry refuses to believe that a civilization of women could be free of jealousy, weakness, free of feminine vanity, free of submissiveness, and dull. Van says, “we had expected pettiness, and found a social consciousness besides which our nations looked like quarreling children. We had expected jealousy and found a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence, to which we could produce no parallel” (Herland, p. 81).

Other things I particularly liked about the society are that it is free of crime, it is peaceful, and has a high sense of solidarity. Vandyck says it best, “you see, they had had no war. They had had no kings, and no priests, no aristocracies. They were sisters, and as they

grew, they grew together- not by competition, but by united action” (Herland, p. 60). This would be my utopia as well.

Another thing I like about this society is their concept of religion. There seem to be no rules or formal ceremonies attached to spirituality. Their religion was maternal, and their ethics were based on evolution. I really liked that they had no theory of the essential opposition of good and evil, to them life was growth, their pleasure was in growing, and it was their duty also. I also like that for them its a central theory, “their cleanliness, their health, their exquisite order, the rich, peaceful beauty of the whole land, the happiness of the children, and above all the constant progress they made – all this was their religion” (Herland, p. 115).

Something I really liked was the fact they don’t believe in worshipping past religions, or idols, “as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course….They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.” (Herland, p. 111). This belief is perhaps the one thing that struck me as the greatest part of their civilization, it s so logical to me.

What is missing for me in this utopia is the sense of passion, and sense of adventure. Although I feel that all of these women are both strong and daring, they are so isolated in their world that it is rather dull. This would include the need for, or even idea of, sex or

romantic love in any context. Gilman makes no mention of either heterosexual or homosexual love.

There is no variation in love, there seems to be the one type of love for all. As Van says, “they loved one another with a practically universal affection, rising to exquisite and

unbroken friendships, and broadening to a devotion to their country and people” (Herland, p. 94). This for me, would be monotonous, it might be a romantic notion, but in my idea of a utopian society, love and all that goes with it would be a necessity.

If I were to choose a feminist, utopian society, I would choose one very much like Herland. The only things I would consider changing would be the lack of romance and romantic love. I think that as difficult as love may be, it is vital to the human spirit.

I also don’t agree with the view that all women are mothers, that this is natural and right for every woman. I don’t believe that it is. I think that in my utopia this would be a free choice and motherhood would not be viewed as highly as it is here.

I think that it s dull because they have no problems to occupy their time. It is benign and static, and maybe that is something else that I would change in my own utopian society. I wouldn’t want the problems our society has, but some of the conflict that comes

from deep, interpersonal commitment might make Herland a more interesting place to live.

I also would consider making my utopia open to men as well as women. Although this contradicts the idea of a typical, feminist utopia, if the point of utopia is to reach your highest, fullest sense of humanity, then to exclude somebody on the basis of gender would contradict that purpose. The Herlanders viewed men and women as people, not as their sex roles. We, as feminists must do the same to reach that same level of consciousness.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel, Herland, written in 1915, is a utopian, feminist, fantasy. It first appeared as a serial in Gilman’s magazine, The Forerunner, and did not appear as a book until 1979. Gilman was a forerunner herself. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is considered by many to be one of the most important female social economists, feminists, and sociologists of her time. Yet, her name is almost unknown or rather, excluded from many historical and sociological accounts. This is despite the fact that in the first two decades of the twentieth century, her books went through numerous editions and were translated into at least seven foreign languages.

Gilman, was a strong believer in women’s economic independence and was a serious critic of history and society. She attempted to create a cohesive body of thought that combined feminism and socialism, even in her fictional tales.

Herland was one of several fictional accounts written by Gilman using the same themes. She suggests the kind of world that she herself would have liked to have seen. Nearly one hundred years later, her stories still address the problems that are relevant today; they focus on children and their needs, on motherhood, and on redefining the roles of both men and women in society.

Herland begins on the eve of World War I, when three American male explorers stumble onto an all-female society somewhere in the distant corners of the earth. The men, unable to believe their own eyes, set out to find the men of the society, convinced that,

since “this is a civilized country, there must be men” (Herland, p. 11). However, as these men soon find out, women have created a utopia without men at all.

Gilman writes a story where women are descended by parthenogenesis from an aboriginal virgin mother, and are isolated from the rest of the world by treacherous cliffs. They build a civilization reflecting the special talents of women free of male domination. In Herland, society is shaped by maternity, or motherhood. Motherhood is viewed almost as if it were a religion, it is considered a privilege to become a mother. “They lost all interest in deities of war and plunder, and gradually centered on their Mother Goddess altogether” (Herland, p. 59).

They practiced “negative eugenics,”. As Van says, “we are commonly willing to lay down our lives for our country, but they had to forego motherhood for their country- and it was precisely the hardest thing for them to do” (Herland, p. 69).

In Herland, the women all live collectively, and the concept of a private home is alien to them. The children are reared communally, as in the modern Israeli Kibbutz. Indeed “the children in this country are its one center and focus” (Herland, p. 60).

Everything is built collaboratively, the buildings, the gardens, the schools, are all perfect. As Vandyck observed, “everything was beauty, order, perfect cleanness, and the pleasantest sense of home all over it” (Herland, p. 19).

What is most appealing about to me about Herland is the different concept of motherliness. As the character Van explains, “it is a motherliness which dominated society,

which influenced every art and industry, which absolutely protected all childhood, and gave it the most perfect care and training” (Herland, p. 73).

From this concept of society, all are able to live to their fullest potential. Without the limitations that are put on women in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s time, as well as our own, all of these women were encouraged to pursue work that they were suited to. If a child in Herland showed an aptitude for something, or enjoyed something, that skill was nourished and developed. This to me, is truly a utopian concept. As Ellador explains it, “here is a young human being. The mind is as natural a thing as the body, a thing that grows, a thing to use and enjoy. We seek to nourish, to stimulate, to exercise the mind of a child as we do the body” (Herland, p. 104).

I also like Gilman’s use of humor, particularly in the Character of “Terry” to dispel common myths about women’s roles, women’s characteristics, and women’s stereotypical behavior. Terry refuses to believe that a civilization of women could be free of jealousy, weakness, free of feminine vanity, free of submissiveness, and dull. Van says, “we had expected pettiness, and found a social consciousness besides which our nations looked like quarreling children. We had expected jealousy and found a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence, to which we could produce no parallel” (Herland, p. 81).

Other things I particularly liked about the society are that it is free of crime, it is peaceful, and has a high sense of solidarity. Vandyck says it best, “you see, they had had no war. They had had no kings, and no priests, no aristocracies. They were sisters, and as they

grew, they grew together- not by competition, but by united action” (Herland, p. 60). This would be my utopia as well.

Another thing I like about this society is their concept of religion. There seem to be no rules or formal ceremonies attached to spirituality. Their religion was maternal, and their ethics were based on evolution. I really liked that they had no theory of the essential opposition of good and evil, to them life was growth, their pleasure was in growing, and it was their duty also. I also like that for them its a central theory, “their cleanliness, their health, their exquisite order, the rich, peaceful beauty of the whole land, the happiness of the children, and above all the constant progress they made – all this was their religion” (Herland, p. 115).

Something I really liked was the fact they don’t believe in worshipping past religions, or idols, “as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course….They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.” (Herland, p. 111). This belief is perhaps the one thing that struck me as the greatest part of their civilization, its so logical to me.

What is missing for me in this utopia is the sense of passion, and sense of adventure. Although I feel that all of these women are both strong and daring, they are so isolated in their world that it is rather dull. This would include the need for, or even idea of, sex or

romantic love in any context. Gilman makes no mention of either heterosexual or homosexual love.

There is no variation in love, there seems to be the one type of love for all. As Van says, “they loved one another with a practically universal affection, rising to exquisite and

unbroken friendships, and broadening to a devotion to their country and people” (Herland, p. 94). This for me, would be monotonous, it might be a romantic notion, but in my idea of a utopian society, love and all that goes with it would be a necessity.

If I were to choose a feminist, utopian society, I would choose one very much like Herland. The only things I would consider changing would be the lack of romance and romantic love. I think that as difficult as love may be, it is vital to the human spirit.

I also don’t agree with the view that all women are mothers, that this is natural and right for every woman. I don’t believe that it is. I think that in my utopia this would be a free choice and motherhood would not be viewed as highly as it is here.

I think that its dull because they have no problems to occupy their time. It is benign and static, and maybe that is something else that I would change in my own utopian society. I wouldn’t want the problems our society has, but some of the conflict that comes

from deep, interpersonal commitment might make Herland a more interesting place to live.

I also would consider making my utopia open to men as well as women. Although this contradicts the idea of a typical, feminist utopia, if the point of utopia is to reach your highest, fullest sense of humanity, then to exclude somebody on the basis of gender would contradict that purpose. The Herlanders viewed men and women as people, not as their sex roles. We, as feminists must do the same to reach that same level of consciousness.

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