Free Essay on Herland's Illustration of the Meaning of Life

Published: 2023-01-28
Free Essay on Herland's Illustration of the Meaning of Life
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Feminism American literature Gender in literature
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1321 words
12 min read

The struggle for gender equality is one of the key factors that evoke the question about the meaning of life. As societies progressed, they developed separate spheres of life, based on gender. The society understood that some roles were meant for women while others for men. During Charlotte Perkins Gilman's time, the patriarchal society was male-dominated. Women concentrated on household chores, motherhood, and were denied public participation. The male figures were the breadwinners, allowed to work and participate in political affairs. Gilman's novel "Herland" showcases a feminist utopia where women have autonomy, freedom, civilized society and with no men. Herland, revitalized a new era of feminism because it challenges gender stereotypes that still exist today. The novel seeks to dispel gender biases and inequality in a male-dominated society. As a result, Gilman used the novel to explore the concepts of gender and the status quo of women in the world. Therefore, to transform the society, it is ideal to change how people think about certain concepts. Gilman introduced her concept in a comfortable environment with a drastic new way of thinking. Similarly, my perspective on life will revolve around gender and society.

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Gilman in her novel presents the unequal gendered differences in men and women. The three American explorers Terry, Jeff, and Van portray the different men in a patriarchal society. Terry is a representative of the violent, tough, stubborn, and masculine or dominant male. During imprisonment in Herland, he cannot believe that no men exist in society in the sense that he undermines the power and role of women (Gilman, 2008). On the contrary, Jeff is kind-hearted, emotional, trusting and obedient. He showcases the feminine characteristics of men in the modern world. Finally, Van is intelligent, understanding, compromising, and honest and upon learning the history of Herland, he admits and accepts the newfound society without stereotypical attributes. On the other hand, women in Herland are self-sufficient, anti-feminine, strong, competent, and mothers. They are of a different breed than typical women because of their masculine traits and the gender roles they fit in. Herland tramples the female stereotypes Terry, Jeff and Van were accustomed to in the American culture. For instance, Van stipulated that the women learned their language faster than men comprehended the Herland language (Gilman, 2008). As such, the traits and masculine nature of women upset Terry's sexist appeal. Based on these events, life has a different meaning in Herland than the society in which Van came from.

In the same light, the meaning of life according to my perspective is that it is satisfying. However, our cultures and social norms create obstacles because of the set rules, laws, and hierarchical structure of leadership. In modern society, people have to abide by the laws set by policymakers and governments. However, in Herland, there are few rules and people know their place in utopian societies. The socialist structure of Herland creates a picture of an ideal world, but in reality, socialism is hard to accomplish than showcased in the novel. The modern society follows a capitalist approach of private property ownership, a factor that has contributed to inequality. Since gender inequality is a key theme in Herland, modern society still faces workplace biases with regards to sex. Women are paid less than men, which sparks the discussion of equal pay. In the past, women were not allowed to work, but today, women are free to pursue education and a career. Nevertheless, despite their accomplishments, women still rag behind in terms of managerial and political duties. The society has not yet accepted the changing social status of women in the world. All in all, women have shown their prowess by engaging in male-dominated jobs like engineering and have done it better. Therefore, I believe that sex should not determine a person's role in society. Yes, there are family roles, but women should not be seen as mothers and housewives. They should have the same opportunities to excel and achieve their dreams in life.

The primitive gender roles in the society that Gilman criticized using a feminist lens is the cause of the patriarchal system evident in the modern world. The innate ability of men and women to withstand hard labor and childbirth respectively defined gender roles. Since ancient times, men were hunters and gatherers and women attendant to childrearing. Therefore, in the industrialized society, as the man became the breadwinner, he conquered the world while women-owned the home (Cooper, 2003). As the man-shaped the world, it became a reflection of masculinity. In Herland, Van concluded that "feminist charms" that men are fond of are not feminine by all standards but a reflection of masculinity (Gilman, 2008). In other words, men believed that women were there to please them and the vise versa, a concept that has fueled gender inequality in the world. For instance, women have become sexualized objects as portrayed in the media, film, and television. In advertisements, models showing off more of their skin than clothing have been used to illustrate the ideal women based on the perception of men. However, technology is catching up and very soon women will be equal to men in all spheres of life.

The author's ideas about the shaping power of language and ethics is a central concept in Herland. Gilman raised political issues that affect humanity while depicting the matriarchal mysterious community. In her utopia, humanity thrives without conflict, war, or misery. Van described how the most physical and basic process of birth occurred without men in addition to other needs of the society (Gilman, 2008). She showcases a society where there is no competition for resources or work placements. Everybody knew their roles in Herland. However, the author fails to separate the issue of conflict and human suffering without intensifying sexual content. The issue of sexuality is at the heart of Herland that sees women submit to marriage even if they do not know what it entails. On the contrary, sexuality in modern society has become controversial due to technological advancement. People can shift to either gender of their liking. There have been numerous transgender people coupled with homosexuals and lesbians. These aspects reflect on the wider issues affecting the society where political leaders and religious institutions are at loggerheads due to a shifting balance in sexuality.

The meaning of life is different and diverse across the globe. Even artists place the meaning of life in their work as David Cooper stipulates (Cooper, 2003). Similarly, the meaning of life in Herland is a society that appreciates gender differences but maintains equality. Women are as capable as men according to Gilman in her novel. However, the meaning of life in modern society is based on the dominant culture. For instance, due to heavy social media usage, there are people dominating sites such as Instagram and Facebook while the rest are just followers. Life as we know it is guided by legal, political, economic, and social principles. Therefore, people are obliged to live by the law and support the governing body as they pursue happiness or what satisfies them. With this note, there are bigger factors that determine the meaning of life from income and wealth disparity to gender inequalities and stereotypes.


In conclusion, Herland is a utopian novel aimed at criticizing the patriarchal society by illustrating the capabilities of women using a feminist approach. At the time Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote the novel, the society was male-dominated and women were confined to household and motherly duties. Nevertheless, Gilman, a strong feminist believed that women were capable and should be given more rights. I agree with the theme of the novel that gender inequality should be a theme of the past. There is more to life than stereotypes and biases. The society should be united to achieve common goals without undermining one's capabilities.


Cooper, D. E. (2003). Meaning. London, England: Acumen Publishing.

Gilman, C. P. (2008). Herland. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved from

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