Sorry this is going up so late. I’ve been feeling off all day, which has had an effect on my writing. See you all in about an hour. Here’s the link.
Reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman utopian fiction can give the readers several messages that seem to be delivered to the society. No doubt that Gilman has her own corrupted vision of her society that pushed her to have a better vision of a feminist utopia. When we read Herland, we can feel that Gilam’s main focus in her writing is on the unequal gender status between men and women. It obviously seems that her primary focus is based on the unequal status of women within the institution of marriage. We can see that as one of the major themes in this novel. She portrays the unjust of women’s humanity comparing to men. Therefore, I turned to ask myself what would Gilman writes this novel in this way.
Tracing her autobiography, I found that Gilman had suffered cruel moments in her first marriage in 1886. She had been treated as the powerless wife and a mother of an innocent child of being subject of the husband who was made to be the master and she was the unpaid servant. She also suffered a severe case of depression after that marriage. Therefore, she tends to write her analysis about women’s status in her society. Her feminist utopian world is an important part of her criticism of the traditional power structure of the family. It is a treatise of how can we see the perfect society where men and women are equals.
Gilman presents the utopian feminist worlds in Herland that is inhabited by only women. To me, it seems kind of an extreme imagination where men seems to be excluded from being in that land. Although Terry, Jeff, and Van had that chance to access this world eventually, but Gilman’s concept of a utopian world with no men could be a result of negative attitude from her domestic society. Those men who had been to that world were not totally admitted to be part of that society. They need to be evaluated before they have the chance to be enrolled as new members to that land. Among those men, Gilman represents Terry as a man who was not able to adjust himself within the world where men and women are equal. He seems that he is a rough man who believes that men are superior to women. His ideas from his domestic society still there with him in Herland and he cannot accommodate himself in the equal society. Therefore, he rejects Herland and insists on his male rights.
Interestingly, Gilman represents Van, the narrator, as being more critical character in his approach to Herland than the other males. He likes how Harland is more civilized than his domestic world. He is more successful with his relationship with Ellador comparing to the other couples. He has a rational approach that helps him in his relationship with Ellador comparing to the others. I believe that Gilman chooses Van to be the narrator among the others as the rational character who is welling for change. Van is able to accommodate himself in the feminist utopian world and able to portray Gilman’s message to the society that both genders have an equal role in the society with no superiority between men and women.
I will begin my response by giving a quick insight on how Charlotte Gilman’s novel Herland resembles/ differs from Bellamy’s Looking Backward. First of all, both Utopian novels are similar in terms of the structure of the story, as these novels mainly consist of long dialogues between the inhabitants of the” Real World” and the inhabitants of the “Utopian World” in which both parties exchange their wonder and amazement at each other’s life. Also these dialogues represent the authors’ own views on the life conditions of the world that they lived in, both writers tried to address the main issues that the society back then were facing whether it was social, political, or economical issues.
As for the main differences between the two, the first apparent distinction is that Gilman’s main aim was to call for gender equality,her dream was that one day women would be treated as good as men, while Bellamy’s did not touch on this matter, his main concern was the economic situation and the social order. Another point of difference is that Herland seemed to be less harsh on real life, in a numerous occasions the women in Womenland seemed curious about life outside their country, and expressed their admiration of some of the things that they learned from the three men, unlike Looking Backward, where everything associated with the past was so useless and corrupt, which the novel seemed to be ultimately saying that all the past was BAD while the present and future is GOOD.
What I really appreciated in Gilman’s Herland is the fact that she used three protagonists, or main characters, to deliver her message about how an ideal female/male relationship should be. Interestingly enough at the beginning of the story the three men Terry, Jeff, and Van all shared the same stand on women and their “supposed” role in society. All three men believed that women’s main role was to stay at home and look after children, and it is only the poor women, they believed, that have to go out and look for work. However, when the three men went to Womenland and met all the amazing women, and closely examine how all the women were living in harmony,also that they are self-dependent, and more importantly all of this happened without men. It is after the three men met all these intelligent women that each one began to have his own stand in regard to women, whether they feel that they are equal to men or not. Terry was the most stubborn between his friends, even after he met these women, especially Alima, he nonetheless still felt that men should have the upperhand in the love relationship, and this was evident when he tried to rape Alima. Jeff, on the other hand, was quite the opposite he was so vulnerable with women to the extent of being the submissive side of his romantic relationship with Celis. Van’s affair with Ellador represented the perfect love affair between the two sexes. Their relationship consisted of a mutual understanding and pure love, we can sense that their bond is built upon a strong foundation of equal respect and admiration. Gilman seemed to be urging people to take the love relationship between Van and Ellador to be the standard love affair between men and women. It is obvious that neither Terry’s nor Jeff’s romantic relationship seemed to be ideal, as they both did not call for equality between men and women.This is why I believe that Gilman used Van to be the narrator of the story as he was the one who depicted Gilman’s genuine views on the perfect bond between men and women
I blogged for this week–here’s the direct link, although you should be able to find it by using the link on the right side of our class blog and searching a bit 🙂
I have to admit that I liked Gilman’s utopian novel more than Bellamy’s for couple of reasons. For one thing, it does not have very long descriptive passages explaining the economy of that Utopia, as in Bellamy’s. The other thing, it has the romance element. I am not saying that Bellamy’s does not have that element, but if you remember, it did not appear until the very end of the novel. And Finally, I liked it because Gilman’s utopia is not concerned with economy as much as it is concerned with sociology, as being the biggest umbrella for other aspects, such as economy.
Gilman envisions in her utopia a society populated entirely by women. The whole country is pure women from one female ancestor who had become pregnant without being fertilized by a male. Their ancestor being pregnant without a man indicates that the coming generations of her are PURE WOMEN with no MALE genes. For Gilman to put this way is very feminist. She prepares the reader for a world that has no Male elements and sees how it progresses without males.
The next generations were able to build a country with many very clean cities and highly educated female inhabitants. All the women are successful in participating in economy and politics of this society. Gilman is critiquing the real world of its failure in building the perfect society because in the real world there is a MALE element. How is that clear in this novel? For one thing, almost the whole novel is not concerned with economy, as in Bellamy’s, but with Motherhood and Childbearing. It is to say that the perfect life is about giving or as in the old myth Mother Earth.
The mother earth and the idea of motherhood and production is an environmentalist concept that appears clearly in Gilman’s utopia. For the environmentalist theorists and the Ecocritics, the ideal world is where nature comes first. In Herland, the country, we see how much efforts the female inhabitants put on taking care of nature. Ellador explains how in Herland they had been taking care of nature for centuries. She says, “This is a female of the obernut moth, she told me. They are almost gone. We have been trying to exterminate them for centuries. If you had not caught this one, it might have laid eggs enough to raise worms enough to destroy thousands of our nut trees.” What I wanted to say here is that Herland is utopia and a perfect place not because they have the perfect economic system, as in Beallmy’s, but because it is environmentally perfect.
For Gilman, giving birth, motherhood, and childbearing is an equivalent to the capitalist economy. She is criticizing the capital economy for its production and consumption and put the other way. In this utopia, they build the perfect economy by investing in giving instead of consuming and taking care of nature instead of consuming natural resources.
And back for her very feminist point of view of both economic and male, Terry in Gilman’s utopia is the representation of the male consumption nature. Since the real world is masculine, and the economy is handled by males; she criticizes this through Terry’s character. When the male explorers, meet the three young Herland’s natives, the women run up into a tree and looked down upon the invaders. Terry describes these women as food for his consumption: “Girls …Peaches ,Peacherinos–Apricot-nectarines Whew!’ Terry here is the representation for Male’s point of view women as being objects intended for his enjoyment. And nature in the same way is an object to be consumed for male’s wealth.
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.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Beth Sutton-Ramspeck. Introduction. Herland and Related Writings. Peterborough, Ont.:Broadview, 2012. 9-24.