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Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Essay Example

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Herland Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland was written in the early 20th century. Partially, influenced by other works of satirical fiction such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the novel itself features a society entirely constituted of women (Clute)…
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Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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Download file to see previous pages Namely, this new society isn’t simply one of females, but also has fundamentally changed the structure of culture and interaction (Pringle). This essay specifically analyzes the way that Gilman indicates gender identity is socially constructed as a means of seeking to change late Victorian society, and considers the reasons that Gilman seeks this social change. While a great amount of the novel makes overt criticisms of late Victorian gender identities, some of the most potent such criticisms are established in terms of indirect commentary. After the men reach their destination and hide their biplane they go exploring the area. It is not long before the women capture them. In these early scenes one recognizes the blurring of distinctions behind Victorian gender physicality. The women are described as agile and full of strength and it is this strength that allows them to ultimately capture the men. In these regards, it seems that Gilman’s purpose of shifting the traditional male role of dominator to the female functions as a means of framing the novel in this overarching discourse. As the text further progresses and the men find themselves incarcerated, Gilman uses the situation as a means of further criticizing patriarchal society. The men, expecting traditional patriarchal treatment while incarcerated note that, "Of course we looked for punishment - a closer imprisonment, solitary confinement maybe - but nothing of the kind happened. They treated us as truants only, and as if they quite understood our truancy" (Gilman, p. 42). This statement is significant as it demonstrates that despite the recognition that the women have control, they do not seek to impose undue punishment on the men, but instead merely acculturate them to this newfound society. Indeed, theorists have argued that it operates as a microcosm of the broader critique of patriarchal society (Hoeller). Within the broader spectrum of the gender argument, it seems to indicate that despite claims to the contrary women are just, if not more competent than men, in handling issues related to power or incarceration. As the novel progresses Gilman further explores the areas where late Victorian society has established socially established gender identities. Upon being released from the prison after their captivity the men further explore Herland. Upon their exploration they come to recognize that many of the preconceived gender stereotypes they held, no longer hold. They note, "We had expected jealousy, and found a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence, to which we could produce no parallel. We had expected hysteria, and found a standard of health and vigor, a calmness of temper, to which the habit of profanity, for instance, was impossible to explain - we tried it" (Gilman, p. 81). Similar to the discoveries the men established during their captivity, here they come to recognize that many of their preconceptions regarding the female gender no longer hold in Herland. For instance, rather than finding jealousy they find a ‘sisterly affection’ and rather than hysteria they find health and vigor. In both instances the late Victorian gender stereotypes are proved erroneous, as women aren’t simply jealous hysterics. It seems Gilman’s motivations in these regards are multiple. On one level she has sought to simply demonstrate how an all female society could functionally operate. Still, on a more fundamental level she has sou ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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