Herland | Study Guide

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Herland | Quotes


'Why, this is a CIVILIZED country!' I protested. 'There must be men.'

Van, Chapter 1

The idea that any society could exist and thrive without men is completely outside the realms of possibility for the men. Their sexism is completely ingrained in that they assume women are not able to thrive on their own, and they go as far as to suggest that women would be too jealous to succeed.


I'd run away in the Antarctic ice fields rather than be a prisoner.

Terry, Chapter 4

The urge to be free is so complete to Terry that he'd rather risk death. Despite feeling this, he cannot understand how the exact limitations he's trying to escape are ones women would oppose. He and the other men are provided everything they need—food, shelter, and safety—but he rages against it and convinces the others to join him in his escape.


There are no men in this country. There has not been a man among us for two thousand years.

Somel, Chapter 4

Herland is a woman-only society, the result of generations of women designing and running their own nation. They even reproduce without men, and they do not have male children.


What a man wants of women is a good deal more than all this 'motherhood'!

Terry, Chapter 5

This notion is, in part, the source of Terry's discontent in Herland. He has embraced the sexist notions of women as objects to fight over, as lands to conquer, and as mirrors to reflect his own glory. Seeing them as equals, creators of a world entirely designed around the best for their offspring is not enough for him—even though that world is peaceful, plentiful, and healthy.


As I learned ... to appreciate what these women had accomplished, the less proud I was of what we, with all our manhood, had done.

Van, Chapter 5

Unlike Terry, Van struggles to compare a world built and run by women and the patriarchal world he is most familiar with. For Van, seeing the comparison has made the male-created world seem lesser. He sees the flaws in what he knew before, and it has shaken his beliefs and pride.


The whole thing's deuced unnatural—I'd say impossible if we weren't in it. And an unnatural condition's sure to have unnatural results.

Terry, Chapter 7

The idea of "natural" and "unnatural" is drawn primarily from the discussions of social Darwinism that were common in the time of this book's writing. However, "unnatural mother" was also a charge leveled at Gilman. Terry finds Herland unnatural because it doesn't match what he is used to. This contrasts with the details of the world, which all show it to be superior. It also ties into Gilman's belief (derived from Lester Ward's essay "Our Better Halves") that a female-led world is more natural.


We have, of course, made it our first business to train out, to breed out, when possible, the lowest types.

Somel, Chapter 7

Eugenics is the intentional breeding of people for selective traits—either to increase them or remove them. Gilman was a fan of this idea, and it shows in her novel.


We began to ... prize those beards of ours; they were ... our sole distinction among those tall ... women, with their cropped hair and sexless costume.

Van, Chapter 8

Even as Van is less obviously sexist than Terry, he still is a product of what he knows. He unintentionally (or not, depending on interpretation) admits that the women are equal to the men. Readers have seen that women are as clever, as athletic, and as adaptable as the men. In fact, the novel suggests that in many ways they are superior to the men. There is also a judgment of the women's "feminine" appeal here. In sum the one point of difference is that the men have beards.


All the surrendering devotion our women have put into their private families, these women put into their country and race.

Van, Chapter 8

Switching the focus from an individual family unit to the good of community, humanity, and nation has created a utopian world in Herland. This idea was one Gilman herself espoused. Van, as narrator, is often Gilman's voice in the novel, drawing the reader's attention to important points.


A wife is the woman who belongs to a man.

Terry, Chapter 10

Terry, despite everything, still retains the idea that a woman is lesser. He continues to see them as property, and his approach to marriage is that he will—as in his modern 19th-century American world—be her master.


They had their long ... rich experience of Motherhood, and their only perception of the value of a male creature as such was for Fatherhood.

Van, Chapter 11

The Herlanders see the men as useful additions because of their reproductive possibilities. This, in many ways, is the same way men saw women in the world the men had known. The dominant gender in both societies sees the other as useful for breeding purposes.


In a court in our country he would have been held quite 'within his rights' ... But this was not our country; it was theirs.

Van, Chapter 11

Terry attempts to rape Alima when she refuses his advances after their wedding. Gilman (through Van) points out that Terry could have legally done this in the world the men knew. Marital rape was not illegal at this time in history. However, in Herland this is a significant offense.


I told her ... that we had our unsolved problems, that we had dishonesty and corruption, vice and crime, disease and insanity, prisons and hospitals.

Van, Chapter 12

As Ellador is prepared to return to his world, Van realizes that he's withheld enough information to give her a falsely positive view of his world, and he attempts to correct this.


Little had we thought that our ... efforts at concealment had been so easily seen through, with never a word to show us that they saw.

Van, Chapter 12

Unlike Ellador's optimism, the Herlanders as a group have decided that there is enough reason for caution. They are willing to send Ellador to learn, but they require a promise from Terry and Van (who are both leaving) that the location of Herland will remain a secret.


I'd rather have you with me—on your own terms—than not to have you.

Van, Chapter 12

Van's love for Ellador is such that he would rather have her in a nonsexual way than be without her. He has tried to explain the notion of sex for reasons other than procreation, and she doesn't understand or agree. He does not resort to the sort of awful actions that Terry attempts. Instead, he decides that his wife's affection, companionship, and conversation is enough—and he tells her so.

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