Walden Two is cast mostly in the form of a dialogue—in the tradition of Plato’s Socratic dialogues—in which the renowned and controversial behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner presents his utopian vision of how human society could be reorganized on the basis of “behavioral engineering.” As the most famous and influential behaviorist of the twentieth century, Skinner was well qualified to argue that the modification and control of human behavior through “operant conditioning,” behavioral modification, and positive reinforcement could create a considerably healthier society.
In this book, his only published attempt at fiction, Skinner describes the visit of six characters to an imaginary utopian community called Walden Two. This community was designed by a behavioral psychologist named T. E. Frazier, who closely resembles Skinner himself. At the end of the book, three members of the group—Steve Jamnik and his fiancée Mary Grove, along with Professor Burris—decide to leave the ordinary world and live in Frazier’s Walden Two community.
The book begins with Rogers and his army buddy Steve visiting Burris, Rogers’s former college professor, to inquire about the utopian community. Burris, the narrator of the novel, portrays himself as jaded with his teaching career and extremely disenchanted by post-World War II American culture. When Rogers asks Burris about Walden Two, Burris realizes that he and Walden Two’s founder, T. E. Frazier, were fellow graduate students, and Burris is able to engineer a visit to the nearby utopian community. The visiting group eventually includes the girlfriends of the two young men and Augustine Castle, an irascible colleague from the...
(The entire section is 701 words.)