Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Chapter 6 : Comparisons Are Odious | Summary



From history, Van, Terry, Jeff, and the women go on to exchange information on many fields—geography, anthropology, physiology, astronomy, and so on. Van relays that the women also had developed their own chemistry, botany, and physics to "such fullness of knowledge as made us feel like schoolchildren." Geology was lacking in their disciplines, so Jeff gave lectures which the women attended and absorbed like "Napoleon extracting military information."

Terry finally asks what they intend to do with the men, and Moadine tells them it depends on them. When he asks why they are shut up so carefully, she points out that it's for safety. He misunderstands that she thinks they would hurt the girls. Moadine is genuinely confused by this, and clarifies that it is for the men's safety because if they hurt any of the women they'd be facing "a million mothers."

There follows a detailed explanation of this more nuanced philosophical definition of motherhood. In their society, all things were based on this detail. They are "Conscious Makers of People." Their laws and entire society are about service to this concept of motherhood; it is a religion. In learning of this, Van discovers that there was a period in the country's history of "negative eugenics." He seeks out Somel, his tutor, to understand it.

A brief discussion of infanticide is mentioned, but the conversation veers toward the country's need to limit the population and how they address this with a sense of collective mothering. They had made choices that "perfected" many aspects of their nation by assuring that they had plenty of resources for all.

The chapter closes with the men finally being allowed to move about freely.


This chapter highlights what modern critics most struggle with in the novel. The idea of eugenics—selectively breeding and restricting people from breeding—is met with criticism today, and rightly so. However, at the time it was far more accepted, and plenty of progressive thinkers endorsed it.

The idea of eugenics is part of the ongoing discussion of the way the country has evolved and succeeded. The inhabitants of this woman-only nation have selected and grown the most productive trees and plants and have selected and bred desired traits in animals. The driving force behind their civilization is in making the choices for the service and good of the country. Gilman embraced such ideas in her own life as well. The underlying theory was that by focusing on the collective good, the decisions made were inherently superior. In this utopian world, the food is plentiful, and the people are healthy, happy, and peaceful.

This chapter also contains a warning that angering these women would be unwise. They function as a community. To harm any one is to risk the anger of all. The reader sees how truly this plays out throughout the novel in smaller ways, too. The women acted in unison both when the men were imprisoned and when they were recaptured. The history they share also speaks of women working together. Every aspect of Herland is community based. Women working together for the good of all is one of the distinguishing features of women's fiction of the period. Gilman deliberately uses the men, particularly Terry, to highlight the popular assumption that women are in constant competition with one another over men, attention, or things, then she deliberately debunks that notion with her nation of mothers who are also sisters to one another.

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