ABSTRACT

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novel of 1915, Herland, three men seek to find and conquer a fabled “womanland” somewhere in the mysterious interior of an unnamed but not “civilized” area of the world. Herland is “discovered,” and the three men—and readers of the novel—learn about its utopian social structures, most of which are intimately tied to the parthenogenetic reproduction that sustains and shapes this women-only country. This essay addresses Herland's tropes of consumption, particularly cannibalism, which place it squarely in the tradition of narratives of discovery and exploration in the Americas. Figures of cannibalism and incorporation underlie Gilman's vision of transformation from a male-dominated psychology and society to one that is dominated by what she presents as either female or simply “People.” Gilman uses tropes from the literature of discovery and exploration to power her narrative of discovery and co-optation in which the usual story of male discovery, penetration, and domination becomes one in which the “discovered” become the colonizing force.

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