Skinner’s Use of Metaphor in Explaining the Behaviorism of Walden Two

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Skinner’s Use of Metaphor in Explaining the Behaviorism of Walden Two

B. F. Skinner revolutionized the field of psychology through his numerous writings on behaviorism. However, he began his collegiate life as an English major, and his education in literary techniques and devices clearly shows through in the manipulation of metaphor in his famous novel Walden Two. Although Skinner rarely diverges from the incessant description of behavioral engineering through his mouthpiece in the novel, Frazier, he occasionally digresses from the theory and application of scientific experimentation to the literary elements that are essential to any novel. One of these elements, the metaphor of the sheep that appears at the beginning and end of the book, clearly embodies three principles of Skinner’s behaviorist rationale: the superiority of positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement, the necessity for humans to accept their roles, and the function of the Walden Code to the members of Walden Two.

The novel begins in the disillusioned atmosphere of post-World War Two America. Burris, a psychology professor and the main character of the novel, views his academic life with indifference, sharing this attitude toward teaching with his philosophy professor colleague, Castle. A former pupil of Burris, Rodge, and a fellow soldier, Steve, return from the war, and dissatisfied with what they are expected to do with their lives, approach Burris with a proposition. A former classmate of Burris’, Frazier, has started a utopian community by the name of Walden Two, and the two friends invite Burris and Castle to accompany them on a visit.

When they arrive, the enthusiastic, egotistical Frazier leads th...

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...erimental nature of the Code. Frazier says how it is encouraged “to view every habit and custom with an eye to possible improvement. A constant experimental attitude toward everything” (25). This applies to the Code as well, which changes whenever the members feel that it is necessary.

Even though Skinner made a name for himself through his scientific endeavors, his novel Walden Two displays his literary training and knowledge. By using the metaphor of the sheep to further explain the lives of Walden Two members in an enriching and scholarly way, Skinner manages to weave science and art together. His ability to enforce the ideas of positive reinforcement, acceptance of roles, and the politics of the Walden Code through the simplicity of a flock of sheep shows his literary merit. Skinner proves that he is not only a scientist, but a writer as well.

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