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Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Brief Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novel Herland.

Herland | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Herland is the story, narrated by Vandyck Jennings, of the discovery of a land populated by women. Van embarks on an expedition with his friends, Terry Nicholson and Jeff Margrave. During the expedition, the three men hear stories of this peculiar land. They return home and make preparations to find it.

The men land in Terry's biplane. They remain convinced there are men in the country, too. They meet three young women (Ellador, Alima, and Celis) who outsmart them and flee. The three men continue to explore and are taken captive by women they privately call "the Colonels."

Despite no evidence pointing to the presence of men, Van, Terry, and Jeff continue to believe there are men in the country somewhere.

The men's captivity is not difficult. They are provided every comfort while they are educated in the language and the world. They have three tutors: Somel (Van's tutor), Zava (Jeff's tutor), and Moadine (Terry's tutor). After several months, however, Terry's frustration with the lack of freedom and feeling of powerlessness leads him to convince the other men to attempt an escape.

The three men escape, traveling by night and living off the land. They reach the biplane where they again meet Ellador, Alima, and Celis. Once again, the men are taken captive.

Returning to their comfortable prison, the men continue to learn, and eventually—after about six months—they are given leave to speak to more of the citizens of the country in lectures. They are also allowed to roam freely. At this time, the men begin to court Ellador, Alima, and Celis. Terry and Alima have a confrontational relationship. Van and Ellador become friends. Van, the narrator, tells little of Celis and Jeff's relationship.

In short order, all three men marry. Van marries Ellador. Terry marries Alima, and Jeff marries Celis. The reader learns that both Van and Terry are having difficulties, especially in the area of sexual relations. Ultimately, Van reaches a point where he notes that he'd rather have Ellador's companionship than sexual relations. Celis is pregnant, so the implication is that Jeff and Celis are working the issue out between them.

Terry and Alima continue to struggle—to the point that she refuses to be alone with him. Terry, rather than trying to understand Alima's perspective, hides in her room and attempts to rape her. He is stopped and thrown in prison. The sentence for his horrific act is expulsion.

Jeff opts to stay in Herland. Van and Ellador choose to return to America with Terry. The novel ends with both Terry and Van being asked to promise that they will not reveal the location of Herland.

Herland Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Terry, Jeff, and Van hear stories of a land of women.

Rising Action

2 They find Herland and meet Celis, Alima, and Ellador.

3 The men are imprisoned.

4 Led by Terry, the men escape.

5 They are recaptured and returned to their prison.

6 The men court and wed Celis, Alima, and Ellador.


7 Terry attempts to rape Alima but is stopped.

Falling Action

8 Terry is sentenced to expulsion.


9 Terry, Van, and Ellador prepare to leave Herland.

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