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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 3-5

Chapters 1-2

Chapters 6-7

Summary

Chapter 3

Frazier returns at 3 o'clock, and the group walks to the pond for tea. On their way, they pass a grassy area where sheep are grazing within a fence made of poles and a thin string. Frazier explains that they had once used an electric fence to keep the sheep together, but they discovered that the sheep would avoid the fence even if it were not electrified. With the string-and-poles setup, they can easily move the sheep to different areas of the pasture.

Frazier goes on to point out some of the features of Walden Two: the roads they have built, the pond they carefully maintain as a reservoir, the trees they have planted to separate each area from the other, and the buildings made of rammed earth. The group then sits down at a picnic table, and Frazier explains that Walden Two's buildings are communal: the dining, recreation, and work areas are all shared, and each is connected to the others. This lets the community avoid the perils and costs of bad weather. Frazier also describes a large passageway, the "Ladder," that connects one building with another one higher up the hill. It serves as both a stairway and a lounge, with small gathering areas and large windows located at steps along its length.

In response to a question from Rogers ("Rodge"), Frazier mentions that the architects were early members of the community and are now at work on a much bigger project.

Chapter 4

Frazier then leads the group to the Ladder, where Burris notes that works of art have been hung along its length. While examining the art, Burris gets caught up in a group of people who have come to sit in one of the alcoves. When he catches back up with the group, they are standing in an alcove with an attractive middle-aged woman, who is introduced as Mrs. Meyerson. Since she is in charge of "Clothing for Women," she is more qualified than Frazier to answer questions about clothing, child-care, and other aspects of Walden Two "of interest to the ladies." As the women leave to get tea, Frazier mentions that the tea service at Walden Two no longer involves standard cups and saucers; they have improved efficiency and reduced spilling by switching to tall glasses with special handles. Castle comments that this is a trivial achievement--not one that could serve as the foundation for a utopian society. As they get tea for themselves, Frazier aggressively enumerates the many ways in which this change has improved the tea service. Castle seems annoyed, but Burris is amused.

Chapter 5

When they have all settled down for tea, Burris notes that the women of Walden Two seem uniformly attractive. Frazier quickly says that no one was selected on the basis of attractiveness. Perhaps the reason that Burris finds the women so attractive, says Mrs. Meyerson, is that, since they are not constrained by fashion, everyone can wear what looks best on her. Style changes slowly at Walden Two and clothing is conserved as much as possible. On the other hand, style isn't entirely ignored; it is important that the members of Walden Two remain comfortable in the outside world. Because the members of Walden Two have ample leisure time, dressing well is not a burden.

While they are talking, a group of well-dressed and well-behaved children passes by. One of them stops to ask Mrs. Meyerson if she will be coming to Deborah's "debut" this evening. Frazier explains that when a child reaches the age of seven, she begins to eat her meals with the community. Deborah is one of Mrs. Meyerson's children. When the children have passed, Burris comments that the men appear to be more poorly dressed than the women; Frazier agrees that they have not managed to make the sexes completely equal. They leave the alcove and Frazier walks quickly ahead of the group to a room where children are singing "Happy Birthday" for Deborah's debut. When Burris catches up, he notices that Frazier is watching the proceedings with an expression of deep emotion. The visitors return to their quarters until dinner.

Commentary

In Chapter 3 we get our first taste of the psychology that serves as the foundation of Walden Two. The sheep in the pasture are kept within a constrained area because they have been conditioned to avoid the string that bounds them. This is an example of the use of "negative conditioning," or punishment, to alter behavior. It is clearly effective, but not perfectly so: the sheep are also guarded by a sheepdog named Bishop. The sheep both introduce the basic paradigm of Walden Two--behavioral control through conditioning--and illustrate a particular, and only partially successful, kind of behavioral control. Later in the novel we will see that positive reinforcement, not punishment, is the model used in Walden Two, but for now this is the only, and somewhat ominous, example we have of "behavioral engineering."

Chapter 3 also gives us a brief overview of the setting of Walden Two. Frazier describes the landscape and the buildings in a way that makes it clear that there is a reason behind everything. By this Frazier does not mean to suggest that everything was planned from the beginning; rather, everything in the environment of Walden Two is constantly being improved, if possible, through the process of experimentation.

Chapter 4 is spent discussing the advantages of Walden Two's tea service. Frazier's aggressive tendencies come out here for the first time. After Castle ridicules the achievement, Frazier seems committed to proving in every way possible that it is not as trivial as it seems. Burris is an amused bystander for most of the discussion, a position he will maintain throughout the novel.

In Chapter 5, there is an extensive discussion of clothing. For the first time, explicit reference is made to Thoreau's original Walden. In Walden, Thoreau discusses at length the usefulness of clothing. He emphasizes the artificiality of style, the desirability of simple, durable dress, and the silliness of the fancy clothing people wear to impress others and themselves. Skinner echoes this line of argument, with some qualifications. In his Walden, fashion is not ignored, but merely de-emphasized. The difference is a practical one. Walden Two is meant to be two things that the original Walden was not: first, a community; and second, a community that could be practically implemented in the real world. To force everyone to wear the same, simple clothing would be impracticable; furthermore, it would interfere with the ability of Walden Two members to do business in the outside world.

At the end of Chapter 5, we get our first glimpse into the personal life of Frazier. There is clearly something strange in the air between Frazier and Mrs. Meyerson, and our suspicion grows when Burris catches Frazier's exaggerated emotion at Deborah's "coming out" celebration. We never learn whether Frazier is Deborah's father or not, but it seems likely. Later, when the group visits the nursery and Frazier discusses the communal raising of children, we will begin to understand the conflict that might lead Frazier to hide his fatherhood from the visitors. For now, though, it only seems like a vague sign of problems that may lie beneath the surface of Walden Two.

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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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