Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

HerLand – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 12, 2012

Appreciation of any form of literature involves a degree of suspension of disbelief on part of the reader. And one of the unique problems of literature dealing with utopian themes is the challenge it poses to this ability of the reader to suspend disbelief. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s HerLand, despite its numerous merits, is no exception to this. The profusion of picture perfectness in the themes, settings, characters, outlooks and ideas that populate HerLand partially dents the credibility of this otherwise well written and deeply thought provoking book. Notwithstanding that, the most noteworthy aspect of Herland resides in its ability to offer an alternative worldview which is in parts inspirational and aspirational. Therefore, one ought to approach HerLand with a full awareness of its pitfalls and a maturity to choose what is practically aspirational.

With our growing understanding of the earth’s ecology, one can say with reasonable confidence that Herland would have been an ecological disaster for its agricultural practices. Similar is the case with population control where Gilman glosses over the issue of power equations in societies and the inherent scope for mischief and abuse in practicing negative eugenics. While greater common good is worth striving for, past experiences have consistently demonstrated how this led societies down the path of totalitarianism and regimentation. However, on aspects of motherhood, fertility and the freedom to handle them in a way that is most convenient to a woman, education for citizenship, collectivism in addressing societal issues, Gilman’s views are admirable. Even here Gilman discusses parenthood in narrow terms of motherhood and fatherhood leaving traces of a feminist bias.

Unwittingly, Gilman leaves readers with three possible reactions to the themes in HerLand through her protagonists: Terry- opinionated, cynical and unappreciative, Jeff – a complete proselyte with little intellectual resistance and Van – a cautious rationalist whose approach is worth emulating.

For its human universals, HerLand could have pretty well been a ‘HimLand’ or better still an ‘UsLand

(This brief essay is part of my assignment submission for an online course on Science Fiction, I am currently pursuing at http://www.coursera.org)

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