Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
With Her in Ourland
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo

Chapter 7

In Our Homes

IF there was one thing more than another I had wanted to show Ellador it was our homes, — my home, of course, and others that I knew.

In all the peace and beauty of Herland there was nowhere the small lit circle of intimate love and mutually considered comfort which means so much to us. The love, the comfort, were everywhere, to be sure, but that was different. It was like reflected lighting instead of a lamp on the center table; it was like an evenly steam-heated house, instead of one with an open fire in each room. We had missed those fires, so warm to the front, so inadequate on the back, so inclusive of those who can sit near it, so exclusive of everyone else.

Now, as we visited far and wide, and as Ellador, in her new capacity as speaker to clubs and churches went farther and wider, she was becoming well acquainted with our American homes, it seemed to me.

But it did not satisfy her. She had become more and more the sociologist, the investigator.

"They are all alike," she said. "The people vary, of course, but the setting is practically the same. Why, Van — in all my visits, in so many states, in so many kind families, I've found the most amusing similarity in homes. I can find the bathroom in the dark; I know just what they'll have for breakfast; there seem to be only some eight or ten dinners or luncheons known."

I was a little nettled, — just a little.

"There is a limit to edible animals, if that's what you mean," I protested. "Beef and veal, mutton and lamb, pig, — fresh, salted and smoked — poultry and game. Oh, and fish."

"That's ten, and can be stretched, of course. No, I don't mean the basis of supplies. I mean only the lack of — of specialization in it all. You see the women have talked with me — eagerly. It really is pathetic, Van, the effort — effort — effort, to do what ought to be so easy. And the expense!"

"We know it is laborious, but most women hold it is their duty, dear. Of course, I agree with you, but most of our people don't, you see. And the men, I'm afraid, consider their own comfort."

"I only wish they did," she remarked, surprisingly. "But I'm studying the home not merely on the economic side; I'm studying it as a world institution — it's new to me, you see. Europe — Africa — Asia — the Islands — America — see here, dear, we haven't seen South America. Let's learn Spanish and go!"

Elladore spoke of learning a new language as if it were a dance, a brief and entertaining process. We did it, too; at least she did. I knew some Spanish already and polished it up with her new enthusiasm to help. It was not until observing her intellectual processes in our journeyings together that I had realized the potential energy of the Herland mind. Its breadth and depth, its calm control, its rationality, its fertility of resource, were apparent while we were there, but accustomed as I was to the common limitations of our own minds, to the narrow specialization with accompanying atrophy of other powers, to the "brain-fag" and mental breakdown, with all the deadly lower grades of feeble-mindedness and last gulf of insanity — I had not realized that these disabilities were unknown in Herland. A healthy brain does not show, any more than a sick one, and the airy strength of a bounding acrobat can hardly be judged if you see him in a hammock.

For this last year or two I was observing a Herland brain at work, assimilating floods of new impressions, suffering keen and severe emotional shocks, hampered by an inevitable nostalgia, and yet picking up languages in passing as one picks flowers by the roadside.

We made our trip to South America, with Spanish history carefully laid in beforehand, and learned what everyone of us ignorant United Statesians ought to know, — that "America" is a world-spanning double continent, not merely a patch on one, and that, if we do our duty by our brother countries, we may some day fill out legitimately that large high-sounding name of ours and really be The United States of America.

"I certainly have enough data now to be fair in my deduction," Ellador said, on our home trip. "It has been awfully interesting, visiting your world. And coming back to your country now, with wider knowledge and a background of experience, I think I can be fairer to it. So if you're ready, we'll go back to where we left off that day I jumped to South America."

She turned over her book of notes on the United States and looked at me cheerfully.

"Homes," she said, "The Home, The American Home — and the homes of all the rest of the world, past and present "

I tucked the Kenwood rug closer about her feet, settled my own, and prepared to listen.

"Yes, ma'am. Here you and I, at great expense, have circled the habitable globe, been most everywhere except to Australasia and South Africa — spent a good year canvassing the U. S. — and if you're not ready to give us your diagnosis — and prescriptions — why, I shall lose faith in Herland!"

"Want it for the world — or just your country?" she asked serenely.

"Oh, well, give us both; you're capable of it. But not quite all at once — I couldn't take it in. America first, please."

"It's not so long," she began slowly. "Not if you generalize, safely. One could, of course, say that because the Jones children were let alone they spilled the ink, teased the dog, hurt the kitten, let the canary out, ate too much jam, soiled their clothes, pulled up the tulip bulbs, smeared the wall-paper, broke the china, tore the curtains — and so forth, and so forth, and so forth. And you could tell just how it happened in each case — that would take some time. Especially if you added a similar account of the Smith children and the Brown children and so on. But if you say: 'Neglected children are liable to become mischievous,' you've said it all."

"Don't be as short as that," I begged. "It would not be illuminating."

We spent many hours on the endless subject, — rich, fruitful hours, full of insight, simplification, and hope.

"I'm not so shocked as I was at first," she told me. "I've seen that Europe goes on being Europe even if each nation loses a million men — two million men. They'll grow again.... I see that all this horror is no new thing to the world— poor world — poor, wretched, blind baby! But it's a sturdy baby for all that. It's Here — it has not died....

"What seems to be the matter, speaking very generally, is this: People have not understood their own works — their social nature, that is. They have not understood — that's all."

"Stupid? Hopelessly stupid?" I asked.

"Not at all — not in the least — but here's the trouble: their minds were always filled up beforehand with what they used to believe. Talk about putting new wine in old bottles — it's putting old wine in new bottles that has kept the world back.

"You can see it all the way long," she pursued. "New life, continually arising, new condition, but always the old, older, oldest ideas, theories, beliefs. Every nation, every race, hampered and hag-ridden by what it used to think, used to believe, used to know. And all the nice, fresh, eager, struggling children forcibly filled up with the same old stuff. It is pretty terrible, Van. But it's so — funny — that I can stand it. In one way human misery is a joke — because you don't have to have it!

"Then you people came over to a New Continent and started a New Country, with a lot of New Ideas — yet you kept enough old ones to drown any country. No wonder you've splashed so much — just to keep above water."

I didn't say much. I wanted her to work it out, gradually. She was letting me see her do it. Of course, in this record I'm piecing together a great many talks, a great many ideas, and I'm afraid leaving out some. It was no light matter she had undertaken, even for a Herlander.

"This family and home idea is responsible for a great part of it," she said. "Not, as I find you quite generally believe, as a type and pattern of all that is good and lovely, but as a persistent primitive social group, interfering with the development of later groups. If you look at what you ought to have evolved by this time, it becomes fairly easy to see what is the matter.

"Take your own case — with its wonderful new start — a clean slate of a country, and a very good installation of people to begin with. A good religion, too, in essence, and a prompt appreciation of the need of being generally educated. Then your splendid political opening — the great wave of democracy pouring out into expression. Room for all, wealth for all. What should have been the result — easily? Why, Van — the proudest Yankee, Southerner, Westerner, that ever lived doesn't begin to estimate what your people might have done!

"What they have done is a good deal — but, Oh — what they might have done! You see, they didn't understand democracy. They began to play, but they didn't know the game. It was like a small child, running a big auto. Democracy calls for the conscious intelligent co-ordinate action of all the people. Without it, it is like a partly paralyzed king.

"First you left out half the people — an awful mistake. You only gradually took in the other half. You saw dimly the need of education, but you didn't know what education was — 'reading, writing, and arithmetic,' are needed, even in monarchies. You needed special education in the new social process.

"Democracy calls for the understanding, recognition, and universal practise of social laws, — laws which are "natural," like those of physics and chemistry; but your religion — and your education, too — taught Authority — not real law. You couldn't make a good electrician on mere authority, could you? He has to understand, not merely obey. Neither can you so make the citizens of a democracy. Reverence for and submission to authority are right in monarchies — wrong in democracies. When Demos is King he must learn to act for himself, not to do as he is told.

"And back of your Christian religion is the Hebrew; back of that — The Family. It all comes down to that absurd root error of the proprietary family."

We were easily at one in this view, but I had never related it to America's political shortcomings before.

"That old Boss Father is behind God," she went on calmly. "The personal concept of God as a father, with his special children, his benign patronage, his quick rage, long anger, and eternal vengeance—" she shivered, "it is an ugly picture. "The things men have thought about God," she said slowly, "are a ghastly proof of the way they have previously behaved. As they have improved, their ideas of God have improved slowly.

"When Kings were established, they crystallized the whole thing, in plain sight, and you had Kings a very long time, you see — have them yet. Kings and Fathers, Bosses, Rulers, Masters, Overlords — it is all such a poor preparation for democracy. Fathers and Kings and the Hebrew Deity are behind you and above you. Democracy is before you, around you; it is a thing to do....

"You have to learn it by trying — there is no tradition, and no authority. It calls for brave, careful, continuous, scientific experiment, with record of progress, and prompt relinquishment of failures and mistakes. It is open in front, and in motion — democracy is a going concern." (How a foreigner does love an idiom or a bit of slang! Even this Herland angel was not above it.)

"Now, you in young America had left off the King idea, for the most part. But you had the King's ancestor — the Father, the Absolute Boss, and you had a religion heavily weighted with that same basic concept. Moreover, as Protestants, book-worshippers, in default of a King, you must needs make a written ruler for yourselves, and that poor, blind, blessed baby, Democracy, promptly made itself a Cast-Iron Constitution — and crawled under it."

That was something to chew on. It was so. It was undeniably so. We had done just that. We had been so anxious for "stability" — as if a young living thing could remain "stable" — the quality of stones.

"You grew, in spite of it. You had to. The big wild land helped, the remoteness and necessity for individual action and continual experiment. The migration of the children helped."

"Migration of the children! What on earth do you mean, Ellador?"

"Why, haven't you noticed? Hardly any of your children stay at home any more than they can help, any longer than they can help. And as soon as they are able they get off — as far as they can. They may love the old homestead — but they don't stay in it."

This was so, too.

"You see that steadily lightens up this old mistake about Authority. It is the change to the laboratory system of living — finding out how by doing it."

"It does hot seem to me that there is much 'authority' left in the American home," I urged. "All the immigrants complain of just that."

"Of course they do. Your immigrants, naturally, understand democracy even less than you do. You have all of you set the word 'Freedom' over the most intricately co-ordinated kind of political relation. You see the Authority method is so simple. 'It is an order!' — and you merely do it — no thought, no effort — no responsibility. God says so — the King or the captain says so — the Book says so — and back of it all, the Family, the Father-Boss. What's that nice story: 'Papa says so — and if he says so, it is so, if it ain't so!'"

"But, Ellador — really — there is almost none of that in the American family; surely you must have seen the difference?"

"I have. In the oldest countries the most absolute Father Boss — and family worship — the dead father being even more potent than the live ones. "Van, dear — the thing I cannot fully understand is this reverence people have for dead people. Why is it? How is it? Why is a man who wasn't much when he was alive anything more when he is dead? You do not really believe that people are dwindling and deteriorating from age to age, do you?"

"That is precisely what we used to believe," I told her, "for the greater part of our history — for all of it really — the evolution idea is still less than a century old — in popular thought."

"But you Americans who are free, who are progressive, who are willing to change in most things — why do you still talk about what 'your fathers' said and did — as if it was so important?"

"It's because of our recent birth as a nation, I suppose," I answered, and the prodigious struggle those fathers of ours made — the Pilgrim Fathers, the Church fathers, the Revolutionary fathers — and now our own immediate fathers in the Civil War.

"But why is it that you only reverence them politically — and perhaps, religiously! Nobody quotes them in business methods, in art, or science, or medicine, or mechanics. Why do you assume that they were so permanently wise in knowing how to govern a huge machine-run, electrically-connected, city-dominated nation, which they were unable even to imagine? It's so foolish, Van."

It is foolish. I admitted it. But I told her, perhaps a little testily, that I didn't see what our homes had to do with it.

Then that wise lady said sweet, kind, discriminating things about us till I felt better, and came back with smooth clarity to the subject.

"Please understand, dear, that I am not talking about marriage — the beauty and joy and fruitful power of this dear union are a growing wonder to me. You know that —!"

I knew that. She made me realize it, with a praising heart, every day.

No, this monogamous marriage of yours is distinctly right — when it is a real one. It is the making a business of it that I object to."

"You mean the women kept at housework?"

"That's part of it — about a third of it. I mean the whole thing: the men saddling themselves for life with the task of feeding the greedy thing, and the poor children heavily stamped with it before they can escape. That's the worst —"

She stopped at that for a little. So far she had not entered on the condition of women, or of children, in any thorough way. She had notes enough — volumes.

"What I'm trying to establish is this," she said slowly, "the connection between what seem to me errors in your social fabric, and the natural result of these in your political action. The family relation is the oldest — the democratic relation is the newest. The family relation demands close, interconnected love, authority and service. The democratic relation demands universal justice and good will, the capacity for the widest coordinate action in the common interest, together with a high individual responsibility. People have to be educated for this — it is not easy. Your homes require the heaviest drain on personal energy, on personal loyalty, and .leave a small percentage either of feeling or action for the State."

"You don't expect everyone to be a statesman, do you?" "Why not? Everyone must be — in a democracy."

"But we should not make better citizens if we neglected our homes, should we?"

"Does it make a man a better soldier if he stays at home — to protect his family? Oh, Van, dear, don't you see? These poor foolish fighting men are at least united, co-ordinated, making a common effort for a common cause. They are — or think they are — protecting their homes together."

"I suppose you mean socialism again," I rather sulkily suggested, but she took it very sweetly.

"We isolated Herlanders never heard of Socialism," she answered. "We had no German-Jewish economist to explain to us in interminable, and, to most people, uncomprehensible prolixity, the reasons why it was better to work together for common good. Perhaps 'the feminine mind' did not need so much explanation of so obvious a fact. We co-mothers, in our isolation, with a small visible group of blood relations (without any Father-Boss) just saw that our interests were in common. We couldn't help seeing it.

"Stop a bit, Sister," said I. "Are you insinuating that Mr. Father is at the bottom of the whole trouble? Are you going to be as mean as Adam and lay all the blame on him?'

She laughed gleefully. "Not quite. I won't curse him. I won't suggest ages of hideous injustice to all men because of the alleged transgression of one man. No, it is not Mr. Father I am blaming, nor his fatherhood — for that is evidently the high crown of physiological transmission." (Always these Herland women bowed their heads at what they called the holy mystery of fatherhood, and always we men were — well — not completely pleased.)

"But it does seem clear," she went on briskly, "that much mischief has followed from too much father. He did put himself forward sol He thought he was the whole thing, and motherhood — Motherhood! — was quite a subordinate process."

I always squirmed a little, in the back of my mind, at this attitude. All their tender reverence for fatherhood didn't seem in the least to make up for their absolutely unconscious pride in motherhood. Perhaps they were right —

"The dominance of him!" she went on. "The egoism of him! 'My name!' — and not letting her have any. 'My house — my line — my family' — if she had to be mentioned it was on 'the spindle side,' and when he is annoyed with her — what's that man in Cymbeline, Mr. Posthumous, wishing there was some way to have children without these women! It is funny, now, isn't it, Van?"

"It certainly is. Man or not, I can face facts when I see them. It is only too plain that 'Mr. Father' has grossly overestimated his importance in the part."

"Don't you think the American husband and father is a slight improvement on the earlier kind?" I modestly inquired. At which she turned upon me with swift caresses, and delighted agreement.

"That's the beauty and the wonder of your country, Van! You are growing swiftly and splendidly in spite of yourselves. This great thing you started so valiantly is sweeping you along with it, educating and developing as it goes. Your men are better, your women are freer, your children have more chance to grow than anywhere on earth."

"That's good to hear, my dear," I said with a sigh of relief. "Then why so gloomy about us?"

"Suppose everybody was entitled to a yearly income of five thousand dollars. Suppose most people averaged about five cents. Suppose a specially able, vigorous and well placed group had worked it up to $50.... Why, Van — your superiority to less fortunate peoples is not worth mentioning compared to your inferiority to what you ought to be."

"Now we are coming to it," I sighed resignedly. "Pitch in, dear — give it to us — only be sure and show the way to help it.

She nodded grimly. "I will do both as well as I can. Let us take physical conditions first: With your numbers, your intelligence and mechanical ingenuity, your limitless materials, the United States should by now have the best roads on earth. This would be an immediate and progressive economic advantage, and would incidentally go far to solve other 'problems,' as you call your neglected work, such as 'unemployment,' 'the negro question,' 'criminality,' 'social discontent.' That there are not good roads in Central Africa does not surprise nor annoy me. That they are lacking in the United States is — discreditable!"

"Granted!" said I hastily. "Granted absolutely — you needn't stop on that point."

"That's only one thing," she went on serenely. "Here you are, a democracy — free — the power in the hands of the people. You let that group of conservatives saddle you with a constitution which has so interfered with free action that you've forgotten you had it. In this ridiculous helplessness — like poor old Gulliver — bound by the Lilliputians — you have sat open-eyed, not moving a finger, and allowed individuals — mere private persons — to help themselves to the biggest, richest, best things in the country. You know what is thought of a housekeeper who lets dishonest servants run the house with waste and robbery, or of a King who is openly preyed upon by extortionate parasites — what can we think of a Democracy, a huge, strong, young Democracy, allowing itself to become infested with such parasites as these? Talk of bloodsuckers! You have your oil-suckers and coal-suckers, water-suckers and wood-suckers, railroad-suckers and farm-suckers — this splendid young country is crawling with them — and has not the intelligence, the energy, to shake them off."

"But most of us do not believe in Socialism, you see," I protested.

"You believe in it altogether too much," she replied flatly. "You seem to think that every step toward decent economic health and development has been appropriated by Socialism, and that you cannot do one thing toward economic freedom and progress unless you become Socialists!"

There was something in this.

"I admit the Socialists are partly to blame for this," she went on, "with their insistent claims, but do you think it is any excuse for a great people to say: 'We have all believed this absurd thing because they told us so?' "

"Was it our — stupidity — that shocked you so at first?" I ventured.

'She flashed a bright look at me. "How brilliant of you, Van! That was exactly it, and I hated to say so to you. How can you, for instance, let that little bunch of men 'own' all your anthracite coal, and make you pay what they choose for it? You, who wouldn't pay England a little tax on tea! It puzzled me beyond words at first. Such intelligence! Such' power! Such pride! Such freedom! Such good will! And yet such Abyssmal Idiocy! That's what brought me around to the home, you see."

"We've wandered a long way from it, haven't we?"

"No — that's just the point. You should have, but you haven't. Don't you see? All these changes which are so glaringly necessary and so patently easy to make, require this one ability — to think in terms of the community — you only think in terms of the family. Here are men engaged in some absolutely social enterprise, like the railroad business, in huge groups, most intricately co-ordinated. And from the dividend-suckers to the road-builders, every man thinks only of his Pay, — of what he is to get out of it. 'What is a railroad?' you might ask them all. 'An investment,' says the dividend-sucker. 'A means of speculation,' says the Sucker-at-Large. 'A paying business," says the Corporate-Owner. 'A thing that pays salaries,' says the officer. 'A thing that furnishes jobs,' says the digger and builder."

"But what has all this to do with the Home?"

"It has this to do with it," she answered, slowly and sadly. "Your children grow up in charge of home-bound mothers who recognize no interest, ambition, or duty outside the home — except to get to heaven if they can. These home-bound women are man-suckers; all they get he must give them, and they want a good deal. So he says: 'The world is mine oyster,' — and sets his teeth in that. It is not only this relentless economic pressure, though. What underlies it and accounts for it all is the limitation of idea! You think Home, you talk Home, you work Home, where you should from earliest childhood be seeing life in terms of the community.... You could not get much fleet action from a flotilla of canoes — with every man's first duty to paddle his own, could you....?"

"What do you want done?" I asked, after awhile.

"Definite training in democratic thought, feeling and action, from infancy. An economic administration of common resources under which the home would cease to be a burden and become an unconscious source of happiness and comfort. And, of course, the socialization of home industry."

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.