Re-defining Nation and Nationalism in Gillman’s Herland

14 Feb

For Bellamy Nationalism seems to be “nothing more than Christianity applied to industrial organization”(Gilman 12) In his article “Socialism and Nationalism” Bellamy gave an explanation of both terms and that Nationalism is more related to economic and political equality. And his Utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000−1887 is a good example of his philosophical approach on Nationalism. Gilman, a feminist, humanist and nationalist, was heavily influenced by Bellamy’s ideologies on that matter.

In Herland, Gilman tried to change the socially and culturally rooted conception of what nation means and what is nationalism regardless of traditional or modern perspectives.  In her novel she is obviously creating a new definition of society and socialism as well as nation and nationalism. When the men first encountered the Herlandians, they never thought that they would live in a different society or country that is deprived from all nation qualities. Terry claims that this is neither a country nor a place that deserves to be called a society or nation.  It’s not only the focus on collectiveness rather than individualism but also the lack of foundations that any nation should have. He raises this question of country and government and the historical, political, social and economical aspects of it. “The drama of the country was—to our taste—rather flat. You see, they lacked the sex-motive; and with it, jealousy. They had no interplay of warring nations; no aristocracy and its ambitions; no wealth and poverty opposition.”(Gilman 122)

He simply cannot imagine a nation free from wars history or social classes or a ruling system, and/or racial or economical differences. These concepts weren’t just in America but in the whole world for any nation to become one. These conditions or descriptions weren’t acceptable in Herland although they enjoy the economic and cultural growth and prosperity.

However, Gilman wanted to make a political point and believed that it is not clear what constitutes a nation and that is not a requirement for a nation to have a political affiliation either. This might allude, in a way, to Plato’s four forms of states in his book The Republic VIII. He compares between them to find the just and unjust states. In searching for just and united state of the four governments (Oligarchy, Democracy, Tyranny & Timocractic), none of them achieved Plato’s vision. Utopian nation is none of these states because it doesn’t have any political, social or economical changes that divide what so called “government”. There is no focus on individualism for any system to function within a country nor there is such interest in such theories that only idealize our perception of the world.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Beth Sutton-Ramspeck. Introduction. Herland and Related Writings. Peterborough, Ont.:Broadview, 2012. 9-24.

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