Skip over navigation

Walden Two

B.F. Skinner

Chapters 17-19

Chapter 14-16

Chapter 20-22

Summary

Chapter 17

Frazier describes the way in which Walden Two has dealt with the family as a social unit. At Walden Two, husbands and wives are encouraged to live in separate rooms. The advantage of this arrangement over the traditional one was proven by doing an experiment: spouses were randomly assigned to room together or apart, and eight years later their satisfaction was measured. Those who roomed separately were significantly happier than those who roomed together. Similarly, children are raised in a nursery, not at home, which weakens their ties to their parents but strengthens their ties to the community as a whole. It also allows them to be raised by experts in a controlled environment. The burden of being a child's sole caretaker is removed from parents, and childless couples are given the opportunity to show affection to others' children.

As the parent-child connection continues to weaken, it will be possible for Walden Two to engage in genetic experimentation without interfering in the lives of the parents. The children have a wide range of role models, both men and women, among their caretakers. The communal raising of children is particularly advantageous for women because women's security, unlike in many societies in the outside world, is not tied to their ability to produce and raise a child.

Chapter 18

After lunch, Rodge, Steve, and Burris sign up at the Work Desk to move a pile of firewood. Mary, Barbara, and Castle sign up for lighter work. During a moment of rest, Burris asks Rodge what he thinks of Walden Two. Rodge is extremely excited about it, but he seems torn in two directions. He tells Burris that Barbara is not at all fond of Walden Two. He despairs of convincing her to stay; she is not willing to accept that, even if she finds a happy life in the outside world, it will be at someone else's expense.

Chapter 19

After a couple hours working on the woodpile, Burris showers, changes, and takes a tour of the art on display on the walls of the main building's lounges and corridors. He soon grows tired and nods off in one of the lounge chairs. At seven o'clock he is woken up by a passing group of people and rushes to the dining room to meet the group. During dinner, he asks Frazier what he thinks about the failure of similar communities in the past. Frazier replies that history is no guide, we know almost nothing about the day-to-day working of such communities, and in any case, most or all previous communities ran on some sort of revelatory truth, not the constant experimentation that lies at the foundation of Walden Two.

Commentary

In Chapter 17, we get our first concrete example of what the Walden Two community has done to change social relations. The experimental method used by the community to determine the best living arrangement is practical and scientifically rigorous but not tyrannical. In the outside world it would be next to impossible to conduct such a study. Even if one were to get the agreement of a large enough number of couples, it would be difficult to adequately control all the variables--living space, occupation, income, etc.--that might intervene. Of course, the results of the Walden Two study are, by their nature, not applicable to the outside world; couples outside of Walden Two may, because of differences in their environment, actually be happier living in the same room. But to Frazier, and to the members of the community, this is of no significance. Their goal is to build a better Walden Two.

There is, however, one potential flaw in the experimental logic that is hinted at here and it becomes increasingly obvious later in the novel, when Frazier discusses the fate of members who fail to follow the rules of Walden Two. The flaw is this: Walden Two is a self-selected community. The people who have chosen to live at Walden Two may be--in fact, are highly likely to be--particularly well-suited to it. And if, after arriving, they prove not to be well-suited to it, they are free to leave. Just as private schools can dump their failed students on public schools, Walden Two can dump its failed humans on the outside world. Although there are some possible behaviorist retorts that could be made to this criticism, it is never directly addressed in the novel.

In Chapter 18, Rodge's character is fleshed out somewhat through his conversation with Burris. His clear commitment to Barbara despite her distaste for Walden Two is a sign of his loyalty to her, but also of his unwillingness to abandon the outside world. Barbara, unlike Castle, is not against Walden Two because of its theoretical principles; she simply prefers the advantages of the outside world and is willing to overlook its costs.

Frazier's reply to Burris's question about past communities in Chapter 19 gives us a sense of how important the idea of experimentation is to Walden Two. We also get a growing sense that Frazier, for all his talk of the elimination of anger, jealousy, and competitiveness, is not himself entirely free of negative emotions. He is deeply committed to the success of Walden Two, so much so that he sometimes has difficulty restraining himself when it is criticized or compared to past communities that failed.

More Help

Previous Next
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.

0 Comments

1 out of 1 people found this helpful

Follow Us