Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Chapter 11 : Our Difficulties | Summary

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Summary

The differences between the two worlds are nowhere more obvious to the men than in the issue of marriage. The women are not from a world where women submit. They are not accustomed to the notion of sexual relations, and both Alima and Ellador soundly reject them. Celis is not discussed as much here. Van speaks of Ellador because she is his wife, and so he knows more about her views and the difficulty he is discovering. He discusses Terry and Alima because of the actions Terry takes.

Terry grows increasingly more assertive until Alima refuses to be alone with him. His response to this is to hide in her room. Unable to accept Alima's refusals, Terry attempts to rape her. He is stopped, imprisoned, and tried. The punishment for Terry's action is handed down: expulsion.

Analysis

After all of the conflicts between the two worlds, the issue of marriage is one that is far more complicated. Terry cannot truly accept his wife's role as an equal. His attempts to "master" her are met with resistance to the point that Alima—whether to avoid conflict or out of fear—chooses not to be alone with him. Many of the gender conflicts in the United States in the late 19th century centered around the idea of volition: having choices, having control over one's life. Arguments in this vein included education, work, reproduction, and marital rights. Gilman addresses all these areas in Herland. This final issue, the right to control one's own body, is a more delicate subject.

Van points out that Terry would be within his rights to force Alima. During the period in which this novel was written, this was accepted practice. Not only was a husband legally allowed to force himself on his wife, but abortion was illegal in virtually every state in the nation. In America, if Alima married Terry as she had in Herland, her rights would be severely limited. On the other hand, divorce was legal by this time, so a woman could choose to end her marriage or simply not marry in order to maintain physical autonomy and control whether or not she had children (by avoiding sexual relations). Spousal rape was not made a crime until 1979. As late as 1996, states were still repealing marital rape exemption laws.

The Herlanders, however, are advanced in this area as well. Gilman's utopian society is one in which a woman's control over her body has not been an issue as there were no men. Further, women choose whether or not to have children. Terry's sexist assumptions that he is entitled to Alima's body—not for reproduction, but simply for his pleasure—is met with horror. The punishment is removal from the nation. Terry cannot stay in Herland because of his violation.

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