Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Chapter 7 : Our Growing Modesty | Summary

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Summary

The chapter begins with the men preparing to be free, grooming and tending to their clothes. Van muses on the men's relationships with their tutors. He and Jeff get on well with Somel and Zava, respectively, but he notes that it is not so with Terry and Moadine. He also points out that his and Jeff's opinions of Terry have sunk. To illustrate this, he tells that Terry refers to Zava by a variety of names (Java, Mocha, Chicory) and that he says Moadine (whom he calls Maud in private) is a "good old soul, but a little slow." Van stresses that this is far from true.

Terry takes up the topic of surnames, and the men learn that, although the genealogy is tracked, the children do not take the names of their parents. Rather the children belong to the community.

Now that the men are outside, they discover that the country is "the size of Holland, some ten or twelve thousand square miles" with a population of around three million people. They discuss the food and the plants, and this leads to a discussion of inherited traits, as well as the goal of "conscious improvement."

This leads to an eventual conversation between Somel and Van on the way this is also applied to people. They have "bred" out and trained out the "lowest types." They also make sure that the raising of children is done by the most qualified. She points out that for the child's sake, the mothers are fine with this because they want the best for the children.

Analysis

The idea of mothering presented in this chapter is arguably drawn from Gilman's own experience as a mother. She was called an "unnatural mother" when she chose to send her own daughter to live with her ex-husband and his wife (although Gilman was a close friend of both of theirs). The idea that she would choose what she thought was a better situation for her daughter—the woman more qualified to raise her at that particular time—was soundly condemned. In the fictional society of her novel, Gilman gives an example of how this works and why it is more beneficial for everyone.

The chapter also offers another smaller theoretical point: names. Both here and in the last chapters of the book, the idea of names, taking on of names, and what this means is explored. The reader sees the idea here in regard to children, when Somel tells the men that there is no need for a child to bear her mother's name, because "the child has its own." This is a radical notion of autonomy for children—particularly for girls. Later, the same topic is in relation to wives. To give someone a surname is to take possession of them. The women do not do so with their children. It is foreign to them. As such, it is no wonder that they would reject the idea of the importance of doing so as a wife.

Again, a communal society is not about individuals or ownership in the way the men are used to thinking. Theories that seem strange are presented as logical because they all serve the same purpose of service to community, to country, and to motherhood. This rational approach to every aspect of Herland repeatedly invites the three men to address their own theories and beliefs. Throughout the novel, readers will see the argument on the men's side reduced to things being done a set way simply because they always have been. The women invite the men to think about why they choose to believe or act in the ways they do. Through them Gilman asks the reader the same question.

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