Walden Two | Study Guide

B. F. Skinner

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Walden Two | Chapter 1 | Summary



Skinner introduces the narrator, a professor named Burris. A former student, Rogers, and his military friend Steve Jamnik come to visit Burris at his university office to convince him a real social experiment is necessary to find a way to repair society's ills. They reference the concept of a utopian community, which Rogers remembers from one of Burris's lectures. The two mention a man named Frazier who wrote an article on a planned community to test psychological theories. The professor is surprised to hear about Frazier, who was a colleague at graduate school. In a yearbook he finds Frazier's address, which is listed as Walden Two. The professor's curiosity heightens as he remembers Frazier's interest in Thoreau's Walden, and he decides to write to him.


Skinner uses several narrative strategies to set up the reader for the experimental community. First, he uses first-person narration to share the professor's inner thoughts, leaving Rogers and Steve to provide the information about Frazier and Walden Two. At first the narrator is disheartened a former student would be concerned with some offhand comment he had made about utopias years before. However, through Rogers's and Steve's urging, the professor manages to reveal his true excitement about Frazier's social experiment. This allows the narrator to discover information along with the reader.

Second, Skinner uses backstory to introduce Frazier and tell the reader where he knew him, what his interests were, and about his fascination with Thoreau's Walden. This prepares readers for the initial meeting with Frazier.

Third, the setting is a university. This adds credibility to the concept of utopia, as it is introduced in the context of peer-reviewed discussions and writing. This would not have been the case in a nonacademic setting. It is possible the world of academia has been Burris's own utopian world of sorts. Skinner uses the professor's inner dialogue to offer some doubts regarding an experimental community. He contrasts this with the professor's physical actions and dialogue toward the end of the chapter, which indicate his true interest in Frazier's Walden Two experiment.

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