Walden Two

by: B.F. Skinner

Chapters 3-5

Summary Chapters 3-5

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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