Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a humorous Utopian novel about an ideal world in which women are free to demonstrate their personal and cultural identities. The three main characters are Terry Nicholson, a misogynist explorer; Jeff Margrave, a doctor who idolizes women; and Vandyck Jennings, a sociologist whose views on women are more empirical, if no more informed, than those of his comrades. The men, clearly, represent different types of male perspectives about women. Jeff idealizes females as Southern belles. Terry is concerned only with their physical appeal. Vandyck has a scientific outlook and regards them as objects of study.
The three discover the women’s Utopia. In their first encounter with the young native women, the explorers describe the inhabitants as tree dwellers who are skittish and defy capture. Lured by curiosity about the creatures, who are described in neuter terms, the men venture into the town. Not long after their arrival, they are surrounded by the elders of the settlement, who treat them hospitably but with much caution and who define for the three men the areas they may see within the new culture. Jeff, Terry, and Vandyck, however, seek more information than that provided by their polite captivity, and they escape their quarters and venture out on their own. During what proves to be an awakening for the three men, they are introduced to an ancient culture of women who have lived successfully for centuries...
(The entire section is 453 words.)