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Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 6-7

Chapters 3-5

Chapter 8-9

Summary

Chapter 6

At 7 o'clock, Frazier comes to the visitors' quarters to bring them to dinner. Before dinner, they take a stroll along the "Walk," a curved, windowed hallway that stretches the length of the main building. There are a fair number of people taking after-dinner strollsor enjoying the view, but nonetheless the Walk is not crowded. Burris mentions this to Frazier, who replies that crowds are extremely rare at Walden Two. In fact, they have been eliminated as much as possible. The only reason people enjoy crowds in the world at large is because they provide a false sense of community. At Walden Two, concerts and shows that appeal to the entire community are simply repeated in front of small audiences until everyone has had a chance to see them. Lectures, which are less likely to be repeated, are simply not worth giving; better to hand out a printed copy of the lecture to those who are interested. Regardless, it is unlikely that a lecturer could pick a topic that would interest even two hundred, let alone one thousand, members of the Walden Two community.

Castle then asks how the community deals with the fact that everyone must eat. Frazier replies that large crowds demand large and inefficient facilities, but at Walden Two smaller, cheaper, and more efficient facilities can be used because members' eating and working schedules are staggered. If a particular dinner-time becomes crowded, members simply choose to eat at another time.

Chapter 7

As this discussion is ending, the group moves toward the dining halls. Each dining room contains about half a dozen tables, and each has a different décor: American cafeteria, English inn, Swedish, modern, and so on. Frazier explains that the varied décor is intended to make the children feel comfortable when they venture into the outside world. The service is buffet-style. Frazier makes a point of showing off the trays: they have separate compartments for the main entrée and dessert, and they are made of glass so that the dishwashers can tell they are clean without turning them over. After dinner, the group stops by the dishwashing operation, a well-automated affair run by two members of the community, where Frazier notes that their method saves an enormous amount of labor that would have been done, in the outside world, by housewives.

Commentary

In Chapter 6, we begin to see a dynamic that will be maintained throughout the novel: Frazier expounds on some aspect of Walden Two, and Castle plays the skeptic. It is in the most substantial parts of Walden Two, such as Chapter 6 and the chapters that succeed it, that this pattern is most strictly followed. Frazier talks in long, expository paragraphs, and Castle interjects with criticisms and questions. Occasionally Burris chimes in--sometimes with his own comments, but most often as a mediator between Castle and Frazier. The dynamic between Castle and Frazier motivates almost all of the discussion of the principles behind Walden Two, but it is clear from the beginning that Castle will never be a member of the community. Burris, on the other hand, is open to suggestion, and Frazier's attempts to convince him to stay constitute the most interesting--and most human--of the social interactions depicted in the novel.

In his biography of Skinner, Daniel W. Bjork has suggested that the characters of Frazier and Burris were meant to represent two parts of Skinner himself: Frazier is the utopian, the revolutionary, the radical--the Skinner who tried to start a movement to overhaul the American educational system, who wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and who often shocked his colleagues and the public with how far he was willing to take his "science of behavior"; Burris, in contrast, is the academic, the skeptic, the reasonable man--the Skinner who studied and taught at Harvard, who carefully maintained his social and professional connections, and who refused to join the communities patterned after Walden Two that sprung up in the late '60s and '70s. In Walden Two, both sides of Skinner get free play. If we are willing to take Bjork's leap of interpretation, the novel makes an interesting character portrait of a man who was deeply divided between his desire to revolutionize society and his desire to remain a productive part of it.

In Chapter 7, Frazier emphasizes the practical side of Walden Two. This is not a utopia in the classical sense (a perfect society driven by a set of ideals). Instead, it is an "experimental" or "scientific" utopia, one in which each and every practice can be changed if the evidence argues against it.

In his discussion of the dishwashing operation, Frazier makes his first explicit mention of "cultural engineering." He will not tell the visitors exactly what he means by this until much later in their visit, so for now it serves only as a tantalizing glimpse into the machinery behind Walden Two's apparent success. Nevertheless, we get a sense of what he means. The reason that Walden Two's innovations would not succeed in the outside world is that the people of the outside world would never be willing to make the changes required. At Walden Two, however, people are "culturally engineered" to accept them. What exactly this entails will be described later.

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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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