Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 601

Vandyck (Van) Jennings

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Vandyck (Van) Jennings, a young sociologist and chronicler of the Herlandean adventures. A scientist and linguist, he maintains an open mind and objectivity toward the all-female country he and his two friends discover. The most levelheaded of the three explorers, he is better able to observe and interpret their situation than are the others. He is eager to learn the language and willing to accept the education provided by his tutor, Somel; later, his relationship with Ellador, which begins as a comradely friendship, deepens into love. He enjoys sharing knowledge and experience with her. Although their views of marriage differ markedly, his respect for her as a person contributes to their successful union.

Terry O. Nicholson

Terry O. Nicholson, a wealthy young pilot, eager to explore and overconfident of his masculine charm. He is unable to accept a society without men or one in which women are equal; he expects a woman to relate to him. Fretting about confinement by the Herlandeans, he organizes an escape attempt and is humiliated to be recaptured by the women. Suave and masculine, he courts and marries Alima, still insisting that women enjoy being mastered, but his childish attempt to force her sexually results in failure and his divorce. He is expelled from Herland.

Jeff Margrave

Jeff Margrave, a young doctor, courteous and curious, interested in all the wonders of science. An opposite to Terry in his attitudes toward women, he is a romantic and an idealist, and he views women as akin to angels, needing protection. He is immediately captivated by the culture of Herland and is soon convinced of its superiority to his own. He worships Celis and what she represents, and he cheerfully accepts the conditions she sets for their marriage.


Ellador, a young woman of Herland, a forester with soft brown hair and eyes. She is logical, intelligent, and strong, and she also possesses the qualities developed in Herland’s women: compassion, tenderness, and a high regard for mothering. She accepts Vandyck as a companion, a friend, and finally a husband. Her naïve yet astute questions about life in the rest of the world elicit stark contrasts between Herland and elsewhere. Firmly convinced that sexual activity should occur only to produce children, she cleverly deflects Vandyck’s desires with an excess of comradeship.


Alima, another young forester in Herland. A blazing dark-eyed beauty, she is exceptionally strong and proud, as well as a shade more provocative and atavistically female than her friend Ellador. She is very much an individual, accustomed to independence and recognition as a person; consequently, her courtship with Terry is stormy and their marriage a disaster.


Celis, another young forester in Herland, described by Vandyck as a “blue-and-rose-and-gold person.” She is at first a little puzzled by Jeff’s enthusiastic devotion and desire to serve her, but she is capable enough to help him adjust to a Herlandean marriage. Her pregnancy brings great joy to them both. Their child is to be the first in Herland’s history to be conceived by a male and a female rather than parthenogenetically.


Somel, Vandyck’s tutor, a sweet, motherly woman and an excellent teacher. She answers Vandyck’s questions with candor and thoroughness, and they become good friends.


Moadine, Terry’s tutor, a big woman who is calm and friendly. Unfailingly polite, she responds to Terry’s rudeness and outbursts with pleasant laughter or grave acknowledgment.


Zava, Jeff’s tutor. Like the other tutors, she is friendly, wise, and motherly. Jeff declares that he loves Zava like a jolly aunt.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549

The three men who visit Herland represent three distinct stances taken by men visa-vies women. While the attitudes of both Jeff Margrave and Van are more palatable than Terry's, none, it seems, is perfect. At the most conservative extreme, Terry, even at the story's conclusion, views women as little more than objects created for his use and enjoyment. When the group first hears rumors of a country populated only by women, Terry "had visions of a sort of sublimated summer resort—just Girls and Girls and Girls." Though couched in the opaque language of sex employed in published works at the beginning of the twentieth century, Van makes a clear assertion that Terry's interest in their expedition comes from purely carnal sources. There are insinuations about moral laxity in the brief discussions of Terry's life before the first narrated events; his behavior during their tenure in Herland makes it clear that the lessons the women teach fall on deaf ears in his case.

Jeff, though he never degrades or assaults any of the women, is not, in Gilman's estimation, much better than Terry. Though he doesn't see the women as sex objects, he does dehumanize them by seeing them only as ideals. Van notes that "Jeff always had a streak that was too good for this world! He accepted the angel theory, swallowed it whole." When the men find out that sex with their new wives is out of the question except for prescribed reproductive purposes, Jeff alone is delighted. Censure of physical contact actually fits his perception of women as untouchable spirits perfectly. The reader who is aware of subsequent trends in feminism, some of which have privileged a woman's right to reproductive and sexual freedom, surely recognizes that Jeff, no less than Terry, denies his wife's dynamism and personal autonomy.

Van, in his own words, "stood between. I was no such gay Lothario as Terry, and no such Galahad as Jeff." Where Jeff at first envisions Herland as an angelic place and Terry imagines a country torn apart by petty squabbles, Van, with nothing to base his opinions on, suspends judgment. Throughout, he seems ruled by reason and moderation where his companions rely solely on their spirit and body respectively. Such reasonableness is necessary for the narrator, for he, truly, speaks for Gilman—representing, I think, her ideal of masculinity (after, of course, his careful study in Herland).

The women the three explorers marry are in many ways mirrors of their personalities. Alima, Terry's wife, is also adventurous and curious; after all, she is the one who comes closest to the men when they first encounter them in the forest. Since they are both assertive, hardheaded people, the courtship of Terry and Alima was one in which "they broke and quarreled, over and over." Eventually, however, they enter a tenuous truce broken only by Terry's violence. Jeff's wife Celis fits his ideal wherein women are angels. Ellador, the narrator's wife, is more dynamic than either of them, however. She is neither stubborn like Alima nor as fawning as Celis. Instead, she appears to be an intellectual peer of Van's. They talk of her home and his. Throughout their conferences, she reasons with him, pointing out the faults of his society and explaining the benefits of her own.

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