1. They were not young. They were not old. They were not, in the girl sense, beautiful. They were not in the least ferocious. . . . I had the funniest feeling . . . of being hopelessly in the wrong that I had so often felt in early youth when my short legs’ utmost effort failed to overcome the fact that I was late to school.
In Chapter 2, the men have their first encounter with the women of Herland, and things do not at all go as they had planned. In this passage, Van begins to sense that these women are unlike any he has ever encountered, and that perhaps he has misjudged what women could be. These women are not afraid of the three explorers, and they do not seem like “savages” or belligerent “amazons” at all. Van cannot determine how old the women are, but in their presence he begins to feel young and timid. Van’s feeling that he is perpetually in the wrong stays with him throughout his time in Herland.
In Herland, the men do, in effect, become like little boys again. Compared to the full humanity represented by the women of Herland, the kind of masculinity represented by all three men, particularly by Terry, is a kind of childishness, the mark of an incomplete personality. Van’s early sensitivity to his position with regard to the women shows that he is willing to learn from the situation in which he finds himself. Terry, on the other hand, cannot really see the women. Since they are not beautiful “in the girl sense,” he cannot even recognize them as women. If Van feels like a child at first, he soon grows into a new kind of man, while Terry retreats into his childish version of what it means to be a man.