Walden Two | Study Guide

B. F. Skinner

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Walden Two | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

While the group is walking outside, they see a teenage boy and girl playing with a baby. The group learns from Frazier they are the child's parents. Frazier explains the merits of early marriage and parenthood, though Castle and Barbara are unconvinced. Frazier says the modern view of sex as unwholesome and young parents as irresponsible are by-products of a misdirected society. He claims young parents are naturally ready for mating and parenting, and women have their young lives still ahead of them after childbearing. Burris says early marriage is not unheard of historically, but the idea of it in Walden Two strikes him as the most "radical" of the practices he has witnessed. Frazier admits the community practices genetic manipulation: "unfit" parents are not allowed to bear children.

Analysis

Frazier's defense of early marriage and parenting is unsettling to Castle and Barbara. Most Western societies, particularly America, in the 1940s were still very much influenced by Christianity and conservative views of the age of majority, the age at which a child is considered an adult. School-age children were and are still not considered to be at the age of majority until the completion of high school. Skinner not only needs to address relationships, but he is also modifying what he knew of the Oneida society and their "complex marriage" practice. In this way the children of Walden Two are not on their own to raise and support children. They have the entire community on which to rely. This greatly changes the view of what age is appropriate for beginning a family.

Walden Two's practice of genetic manipulation echoes the eugenics movement, which was only a decade old at the time Skinner wrote Walden Two. The movement was initiated by the military leader and eugenicist Frederick Osborn. Eugenicists promoted the control of reproduction by restricting procreation to couples with desirable traits. Individuals with deficiencies were discouraged from reproducing or were sterilized. Eugenics started in Europe but quickly gained popularity in America, where it was used before the Nazis instituted it during the World War II.

The manipulation of citizens clearly has an influence on the community's overall health, one of the themes of the story. It is also important to note the young age at which children are allowed to marry and bear children reflects mainly on the economic structure of Walden Two, and this is another important theme throughout the novel. There is also a great amount of tension in this chapter since none of the guests easily accept this bold departure from social convention.

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