No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction

By Eric S. Rabkin; Martin H. Greenberg et al. | Go to book overview

8 Kenneth M. Roemer
Mixing Behaviorism and Utopia: The Transformations of Walden Two

I

Such an innocent little tale: no bloody revolutions or class wars; no test-tube babies; no Big Brothers; no drawn-out economic, political, or religious polemics; no overwhelming mazes of technological hardware, no bureaucratic redtape, or megalopolitan sprawl; no improbable space flights, hundred-year sleeps, or time warps through black holes. Instead B. F. Skinner's Walden Two ( 1948) offers the reader a simple narrative about a brief visit (Wednesday morning through Monday afternoon during the spring of 1945) by two professors and two couples to a pleasant, rural community.1 Even the origins of Walden Two seem tame. In 1945 Skinner was bothered by domestic questions: the way wives winced when they "printed 'housewife' in those blanks asking for occupation," the shortcomings of Julie Skinner's first grade school experience, and the fact that he would soon have to leave a talented group of Minneapolis string players when he moved to Indiana in the fall (p. v, W). Skinner's immediate inspiration came at a dinner party. One of the guests, Hilda Butler, asked Skinner how the soldiers returning from World War II could maintain their "crusading spirit." He suggested that they should "explore new ways of living," perhaps set up experimental communities as some reformers had done during the nineteenth century. Hilda wanted details, details that eventually grew into Walden Two.2

A narrative about a pleasant retreat inspired by domestic queries and dinner-party chat -- no wonder one student of utopian literature has described Walden Two as the paradigm for the modern shrunken utopia.3 And yet, Walden Two may well be the most controversial utopia ever written.

The controversy didn't start overnight.4 But when it did, both the supporters and the critics of Walden Two voiced strong opinions. One

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