Date of this Version
Hill, Michael R. 1996. “Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” Pp. 251-254 in Masterpieces of Women’s Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill. New York: HarperCollins.
Herland is the first half of a witty, sociologically astute critique of life in the United States. This story concentrates ostensibly on three men-Van, Jeff, and Terry-who discover a small, uncharted country called Herland which, by force of an unusual accident of nature, has been governed and populated for two thousand years solely by women. Biological reproduction occurs miraculously by parthenogenesis (that is, without insemination). Charlotte Perkins Gilman exploits this contrived situation in order to contrast and compare the social features of a hypothetical woman-centered society to the harsh realities and crushing inequalities of everyday life found pervasively in male-dominated societies. The cohesive theme and primary purpose of Herland is the exposition of Gilman's interconnected ideas about economics, education, clothing, prisons, parenting, male-female relationships, human evolution, and social organization generally. In With Her in Ourland, the neglected sequel to Herland published in 1916, Gilman presents the second half of the Herland chronicle, dissects the patriarchal and technological madness of World War I, and points constructively to an alternative future based on the pragmatic application of feminist values. Herland is not fundamentally a utopian novel; rather, it is a lucid, persuasive analysis of modem life as Gilman saw it.