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Characters Jeff

Jeff and Terry are a matched pair—opposite sides of the same sexist coin. Where Terry represents the macho, domineering aspects of patriarchal society, Jeff represents the genteel, idealistic attitudes that often accompany and help to justify a system of sexual inequality. Gilman’s point is that Terry’s brutality and Jeff’s gentility are both predicated on a shared belief in the natural inferiority of women. In Jeff’s case, the assumption is that women are naturally delicate, sweet, placid creatures who need looking after. Jeff fancies himself as part of the tradition of the southern gentleman, which, in turn, was based on the tradition of knightly chivalry and courtly love. Gilman wants her readers to see that the object of a gentleman’s chivalry is just that: an object, an idol created in order to be worshipped, and not a living, feeling woman with independent thoughts and autonomous desires. According to Jeff’s beliefs, women are just as controlled and powerless as under Terry’s beliefs, although Jeff’s way is certainly a much nicer, more sensitive means of control.

The more Jeff learns about Herland, the more enamored of its social system he becomes. As Van points out, Jeff’s natural inclination to “worship” and idealize women leads him to embrace Herland’s ways like a religious convert and to reject the male-dominated outside world entirely. Jeff’s embrace of Herland, however, is based more on emotion than anything else, and he seems to think that a woman-dominated society would be preferable in every way to a male-dominated one, mostly because women are simply better, kinder, more moral people than are men. But here Jeff misses the point. Herland is better not because it is dominated by women but because there is no domination of anyone, by anyone, at all. By the end of the novel, Jeff is still struggling to see women as equals, not angelic superiors. Gilman seems to reward Jeff at the end of the novel, both by allowing him to remain in Herland and by having him be the father of Herland’s first naturally conceived child in 2,000 years.