Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Chapter 8 : The Girls of Herland | Summary

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Summary

The men are invited to give talks to audiences and classes. These lectures reveal that although the men had considered the women savages, according to Van, this is not the case. He notes an increasing inability on the men's part to adequately answer the women's questions.

A more social event follows where the girls speak to them personally. Van notes with some satisfaction that, unlike at home where Terry is sought after, here he cannot hold their interest. Van, however, does. He says that he was not as popular at home, but here he has the largest group of girls surrounding him. Jeff, again, is the midpoint.

Over time, Van notices a pattern. Jeff attracts the practical girls, while Terry attracts "the very kind he liked least": logical and combative. Terry is angry about this, referring to them as "boys." Van points out that the three girls that they had first met continue to be absent.

In time it "came to courtship." Van notes that he is most able and least willing to discuss his own. He relates that Jeff became increasingly fond of Celis, and that Terry tried to court Alima repeatedly, but was refused. Even after they began to settle, they quarrel. Terry would pursue another, but he always returns to Alima. Van also notes that Alima, for her part, "never gave an inch."

Van also says that he has become friends with them, and particularly close with Ellador. He learns from her and from Somel that the women had been studying the three men the entire time. However, they were not assessing them as a love interest, as the men would expect at home. They were looking at them as they looked at everything: as service to the community. The men represented an opportunity for the women to revert "to their earlier bi-sexual order of nature." In these conversations, Van also discovers that he has more followers because he is more like the women. Jeff's "exalted gallantry" was his limitation. His approach, seeking ways to protect or serve them, was unappealing and unnecessary. The men were there as prisoners/guests, and the women had need of neither protection nor service.

Van contrasts his courtship with the others. Alima and Terry quarrel and split, only to reunite. Jeff's "devotion" confuses Celis and delays their union. Van and Ellador, however, grow to be friends. They take walks, and she teaches him. They discuss, teach each other games, and explore the land.

Eventually all three men succeed in their courtships, and weddings are planned.

Analysis

The men begin the chapter in the position of so many women in the Victorian era: primping for a party, hoping to catch attention, and wanting to stand out. They are, in essence, making their debut into society. They give lectures and attend parties. At these parties, they watch for the first three girls they'd met in Herland.

It is useful to remember at this juncture that Gilman spent several years without a fixed address. She traveled and gave lectures. Lectures are often followed by social gatherings where the guests can speak to one another and to the lecturer.

At these gatherings, the men have followers. Their personalities and traits that were prized at home are not necessarily favored in Herland. Terry's aggressive attitude, boastfulness, and sexism are not attractive to Herlanders. Jeff's chivalric attitude also puts off women. The idea women need protection and guardianship was rejected in the past for Herlanders. Jeff's attitude is outdated here. Van's appeal is that he's more like the women. While he doesn't find this flattering, he does enjoy the attention.

In this situation, the reader also realizes that competition is foreign in this country. Van enjoys having the greatest number of followers, while Terry changes aspects of his behavior to gain followers. As the novel progresses, readers will note that the changes Terry makes are only on the surface. He acts in ways that draw more attention, but his beliefs remain unchanged.

Gilman highlights Van and Ellador's close friendship blossoming into courtship and love as the ideal: this was, again, a radical notion for a patriarchal place and time when gender roles were strictly upheld and marriage was more a hierarchical protectorate than an equal partnership.

At this juncture, the reader also discovers that the tutors, especially Somel, were gathering information as well as sharing it with the men. This small detail highlights the fact that the men underestimate the women, even now.

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