Review of Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

In the middle of a forest, three American men, each with different personalities and preconceived beliefs about the role of women, enter a civilization with not a male in sight. To me this sentence encompasses the entire novel. By that alone, I'd expect to read a cheery tale of their adventures and all of the comical situations they get themselves into. Herland is exactly that, but delves much deeper into the roots of society. I've also read excerpts of The Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman, and her story captivates me. A woman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, her traumas and life experiences are similar to others of her time and ours. Though this novel is pure fiction and fantasy, much can be learned from it and taken straight into today's society. This utopia, when read about, can be beneficial to both sexes, as motivation for females or a knock to the head for males. Perhaps it is the male gender that ought to read this more, because the potential of femininity is usually not recognized. 

Our three fine friends that embark on this journey through Herland are Van, Jeff, and Terry. In each of their personalities, we see a representation of male views in society. Terry symbolizes the "macho man" of today, and if he had a motto it would be, "the more ladies the better". He has a great love for women, but not of their spirit and uniqueness. It is their submissiveness and willingness to conform tothe exact ideals of men that he finds attractive. It is eventually these views that get him banished from Herland, and sadly enough, he never improves his behavior or learns anything from his experiences there. Jeff represents the feminine male in society. He has an extreme love for women also, but to him they're considered gems because of the  essence of who they are. During their visit he's eager to learn the  ways of the women, and doesn't dismiss their ideas simply because they  originate from women. He leaves them room to assert their independence,  and perhaps that is why Jeff has so much success in his marriage to  Celis and in the end, decides to remain in Herland. If I saw him in  today's society, he'd likely have a woman as his best friend and women  constantly running to him for advice. Van is, in simplest terms, a  happy medium between the two. He had held many misconceptions like  Terry, but wasn't stubborn and unwilling to change like him. Like Jeff,  Van heard out the sentiments of Herland and wasn't closed minded to their way of life. He didn't hold them up to any standards of regular American society, and loved his wife, Ellador, for the beautiful way she was. I consider Van to be the "normal" guy with his respect towards women, however not worshipping them and bending over backwards for them. It is these three personality types that fuel the story of Herland and cause the events of the plot to occur. 

Herland is a civilization cut off from society, and the travelers were in awe when they first saw it. "Everything was beauty, order, perfect cleanliness, and the pleasantest sense of home over it all. As we neared the center of the town the houses stood thicker, ran together as it were, grew into rambling palaces grouped among parks and open squares, something as college buildings stand in their quiet greens." 

Upon reading the descriptions of Herland, I found myself wishing it was a place that existed. It was perfect in every way, and each duty or task they performed benefited their religion of "motherhood", the only thing they cared for. The entire society, and egalitarian social structure was based upon mothering the children, and providing a nurturing environment for them to mature and have children of their own one day. It was interesting for me, that not all people were allowed to have kids. This, in itself, sounds a cruel decision to make, but it makes an immense amount of sense. Having a child is a privilege, yes, but just because you don't have one doesn't mean that you're a failure or any worse off than anyone else. The clothing they wore was for comfort and suited the purpose it was for. It wasn't extravagant or flashy or even trendy. Van and Jeff further exemplified their male personality types by enjoying the garments, and realizing that the women made them to suit individuals for the job they were going to do, and simply that. At several points in the book they were given different types of the plain, yet comfortable clothes, and this made them realize the maturity and effectiveness that was Herland. The women did whatever was most efficient and beneficial and didn't go about it in a round about way. 

The raising of the children enlightened me too. Today there is such a great deal of animosity about parenting, and in this utopia it is perfect. They realize that raising a child is the most precious of jobs and not all are mentally suited to handle this. The care of the children is then placed in whoever is worthy. It's ideals like this and others that today are taken for something that must and always be like that. Maybe if our world wasn't so afraid of change, and being truthful to one another, we'd survive longer and happier. This a large lesson I learned from Herland. The world today is so based on competition, that the meaning of life is lost. The rationale behind doing things should be to produce a universal benefit, not just a panacea for the moment.  We don't stop to think of the long term effects as they do. Everything  in Herland was extremely thought out and had no negative effects. The  problem with society, even as far back to when Paleolithic was turning  Neolithic, is that we aren't aware of the harm we'll cause. When  agriculture was developing I don't think anyone thought of the events  that are happening today as a cause of it. Everything negative in our  world evolved from the settling of humans many, many years ago. Now  we're bombarded with problems and not many solutions, but what can we  do? I suppose the only answer is to prevent problems from enlarging to  a greater extent, but sadly I say that I don't think this is happening. 
by Janet Schoen  
High School Student 

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