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Characters Van

At the beginning of the novel, Van makes clear that he is proud of his training as a sociologist, which requires him to be versed in just about every other science. Sociology concerns the organization of human life in general, and in Herland he finds the perfect test case of a social structure unlike any other on Earth. He is fascinated, but his interest is much more intellectual, and much less personal, than that of Jeff or Terry. Van is more critical in his approach to Herland than either Jeff or Terry, and he makes a genuine effort to understand the principles on which the country is built in order to understand whether or not the place works. Van soon finds that Herland has the “advanced” civilizations of Europe and the United States beat in almost every way. Van’s eventual endorsement of Herland is more impressive than Jeff’s, since he is the most reasonable, objective, and well rounded of the three men.

Whenever Van is confronted by an aspect of Herlandian society that shocks his traditional sensibilities (for example, when he learns that children are raised by specialists, not by their own mothers), his study of different cultures helps him to see the advantages of a new and different social arrangement. Van’s preference is to judge a situation based on the evidence he has before him, not to prejudge it according to a theory. He finds that the sexist assumptions he acquired simply by living in his society are quickly overturned by his experiences and observations in Herland. Thanks to his discussions with Ellador and Somel, Van comes to see that much of what seems “natural” in our society is in fact quite arbitrary, and that things could be, and in many cases ought to be, arranged differently. Van’s rational approach helps him in his relationship with Ellador, since he is able to adjust more quickly than the other men to a romantic relationship that upends his prior notions of romance.