Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
Herland
(Pantheon, 1979)

On the eve of World War I, three American male explorers stumble onto an all-female society somewhere in the distant reaches of the Earth. Unable to believe their eyes, they promptly set out to find some men, convinced that, since "this is a 'civilized' country ... there must be men." Throughout the story, these three explorers learn about the history of such a remarkable country, as well as the customs unique to that society (such as the religion of motherhood) while befriending their tutors and falling in love with three of the women.

This book, while feeling like science fiction in some places, is also a very provocative commentary on the social constructions of gender. Many of the questions that this book raised regarding the roles assumed by men and women in a "bi-sexual" society, as opposed to the uni-sexual society described in Herland, are still quite relevant today. However, there were a few glaring drawbacks that should be kept in mind while reading this well-written book. Gilman does not address the issues of sexuality or race completely, if at all, in this novel. The women are perceived by the men, as well as by me as the reader, as asexual beings. In a single-sex environment, there had to have been some attraction towards other members of the community. When it came to race, I felt that Gilman assumed that the women were white because she made refrences to the fact that the women appeared to be "descended from the noble Aryan stock." She also assumed that civilization was necessarily coupled with whiteness, though she never explicitly stated it.

All in all, I believe that this book should be read because it is a well-written social commentary that raises awareness concerning issues that are still pertinent to our society today.

[ by Melissa Kowalewski ]



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