Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Chapter 4 : Our Venture | Summary

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Summary

After their escape, the men continue their descent into the ravine, stocking up on nuts, and resting behind foliage. They travel by night and sleep by day to avoid detection. From their vantage point, they can see their boat. However, they quickly discover that their plane is sewn into a cover. They have no way to cut it open, and soon discover that the same three women they first met—Alima, Celis, and Ellador—are there, watching them and giggling.

The men try to talk to the women, using what little they know of the language, to explain their situations and afterward pause to play a game with them. After some time with the women, the men attempt to draw them nearer and ultimately pursue them into the woods, to no avail. They give up chase and return to their plane—only to be met by their captors, whom they now refer to as "the Colonels."

The men expect punishment, but are neither anesthetized on their journey to their prison nor otherwise punished. Instead, they are treated with civility and taken back in motorized vehicles, during which Van notes the beauty of the land. The men are taken through towns and villages, notably all without men or boys.

When they are returned to their original room, the men are also told that they were watched during their escape, and that they are "guests of the country" who will eventually be allowed to move about freely when they have learned the language and agree to do no harm.

The men resume their language studies, although Van and Jeff are far more compliant than Terry. Terry is still resisting the idea that there are no men present, despite the mounting evidence. He finally asks, and is told that there have not been any men in the country for 2,000 years. He protests, pointing out the issue of children. Somel and Zava, two of the tutors, explain that they reproduce without men. Jeff explains that this is called "parthenogenesis," virgin birth.

In the ensuing conversation, Somel explains that they'd been waiting for the three outsiders to teach them what they knew, too. The men begin sharing information, and Van tells the reader that they begin to feel that they were "in the hands of friends."

Over time, Somel expresses that she would like to read their history "to compare the history of two thousand years, to see what the differences are." As they continue, however, the subject of animal husbandry comes up. In explaining the raising of cattle for both milk and meat, the men shock their three tutors to the point that they leave horrified.

Analysis

The idea of "parthenogenesis" springs partly from Gilman's study of Lester Ward's essay "Our Better Halves." Ward suggested that women are rightly the ones who should have more power and influence in society. Its place in Herland also underscores the idea that motherhood—even amongst animals—is central to this country and its people. By the end of the novel, it is clear that everything in this society springs from the idea of motherhood. Education, conservation of resources, fitness—everything serves to ensure the survival and protection of the next generation. This ideal of service for the good of the community creates a peaceful, noncompetitive, nondestructive environment.

The women are caretakers. They followed the men, verified that they were safe, and ultimately took them back like they were misbehaving children. Rather than punish them, the women return them to their quarters and try to educate them. They treat them as they would children in this regard, too.

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