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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Herland!