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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 32-34

Chapters 29-31

Chapters 35-36

Summary

Chapter 32

The morning of the last day of the visit (Monday), Burris notices that Castle is in a surprisingly good mood. He realizes that Castle has made up his mind about Walden Two: it is a Fascist organization led by someone--Frazier--who has failed in the outside world. Burris himself has still not decided whether he will stay at Walden Two. After breakfast, Frazier asks if Burris will accompany him during his hour's worth of physical labor in the machine shop. While he is standing on one of the benches, Frazier explains that the idea for Walden Two arose from his desire for control over his fellow human beings. He realized in the course of his research that the only effective way of controlling others' behavior is to provide them with what they want.

Burris comments that he seems to have attained his goal. What is left for him to do? Frazier replies that there is always room for improvement. Walden Two is the perfect experimental setting in which to produce a complete science of behavior. With such a science in hand, anything is possible: the design of personalities, the control of motivation, the development of special talents and abilities, and efficient group work.

Chapter 33

After Frazier completes his hour of work, he leads Burris up a path to the top of a hill overlooking Walden Two. The sit down at a ledge called the "Throne," and Frazier pulls a telescope from his pocket to survey the community's activities. He compares himself to God, but says that he has been even more deliberate in his design of society. Burris is extremely uncomfortable with the comparison and tries to get Frazier to admit that he is joking, but Frazier will not back down. He tells Burris that he loves the people of Walden Two as if they were his own children.

Chapter 34

As they return to the lawn in front of the main building, they notice a disturbance among the sheep that are pastured there. One of the sheep has escaped the fence and the sheep dog, Bishop, is trying to drive it back into the enclosed area. However, every time the sheep approaches the fence, which it has been conditioned to fear, it veers away. Frazier points out that the system for containing the sheep is imperfect because it is based on punishment, which is why an enforcer like the Bishop is needed. The humans in Walden Two, in contrast, are controlled by positive reinforcement. Castle, who has been watching from afar and didn't hear Frazier's comments, laughs loudly at the sheep's escape and jokes that Walden Two's "behavioral engineering" is clearly not yet perfect. Frazier ignores him.

Commentary

In Chapter 32 we get another glimpse of Frazier's larger plans. When he is in front of the group, he presents himself as the (somewhat) humble representative of the community. But when he is alone with Burris, he changes into the ambitious planner behind Walden Two. His discussion of Walden Two as an enormous laboratory is perhaps meant to appeal to the scientist in Burris.

Chapter 33 is one of the more disturbing and surprising chapters of Walden Two. Frazier's claim to be similar to God goes hand-in-hand with his characterization of religion as merely another means of behavioral control, but it nonetheless strikes a discordant note. Frazier has gone to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate that Walden Two is a perfect society, but he seems to be the one thing actually preventing it from reaching that goal. Burris's decision is made no easier by Frazier's revelation; in fact, his indecision about staying at Walden Two is largely a struggle between his personal distaste for Frazier and his admiration for the community he has built. This chapter makes that distaste even more salient than it was before.

In Chapter 34 we return to the scene that introduced us to Walden Two and to behavioral control. This is a neat narrative trick, one that forces us to look back to the beginning of the book to compare our images of Walden Two then and now. The sheep began as an ambiguous symbol, representing both the promise of behavioral control and its flaws when wrongly implemented. At the end of the novel, our image of the sheep contrasts strongly with our image of the people of Walden Two. Indeed, the sheep seem less like a symbol of Walden Two than like a symbol of the methods of control, such as the laws and the police forces that support them, which govern behavior in the outside world.

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May not be important, but...

by Funky-Train, September 03, 2013

On your character summary, you wrote that Barbara Macklin is Rodgers' girlfriend, but they're officially engaged. I think this is a significant detail, because Steve introduces his girlfriend, Mary Grove, informally as "my girl." This shows an immaturity in Steve, whereas Barbara and Rodgers view their relationship seriously.

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