An Essay on the Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury
By Daniel Gilbert
Ray Bradbury's "The Pedestrian," is a though provoking story and it makes the reader consider what the future maybe like and how the reader can act to change it. The short story is a science fiction set in the November of 2052; it is based around the main character Leonard Mead. Leonard is a writer; in the evening he walks purely for enjoyment, unlike the rest of the brain-dead civilians in his city who watch television at nightime. He goes for a walk one evening and for the first time he meets something, a robotic police car. Leonard tells the police car that he goes walking everyday, but the car thinks he must have some other motive for walking, as nobody usually does. The car thinks he should be inside watching television. The car takes him away to a centre for regressive tendencies. This short story gives us a message that people have lived without modern technology for a long time, so people today shouldn't depend on it.
The emptiness in the world of 2052 is definitely prominent; the atmosphere is dark, damp and somewhat miserable. Ray Bradbury explains this by making subtle references to the cold. The first reference to the cold sets the scene. "Misty Evening in November." He deliberately sets the story in winter so that the reader can associate this with being cold. Also the car that approaches him in the street is also described as being cold, its voice was described as "metallic," which suggests coldness and even soullessness. Bradbury talks more about the weather, "there was a good crystal frost in the air." Crystal is associated with not absorbing much heat and frost is a type of cold weather. He then carries on saying "it cut the nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside." This statement portrays the idea of the lack of warmth being uncomfortable, the idea of a Christmas tree inside could also make the reader squirm. He continues with the rather festive metaphor by saying "you could feel
the cold light going on and off." In this he is comparing flashing Christmas lights to inhaling and exhaling cold air. He finishes with "all of the branches filled with invisible snow." Meaning that the inside of him was cold. The coldness, emptiness and inactivity of this world means low crime rates, mainly because no-one is outside to do any crime. On the surface – this may seem a good thing, low criminal activity saves the country a lot of money ,through not paying any policemen but they'll have nothing to spend it on as there is no-one is outside. "In a city of 3 million there was only one police car left." This police car does not even need anyone to operate it. The reader will sympathize with Leonard and the rest of the town people, as they lead a sad almost pathetic existence. The streets of the city are almost lifeless and silent. Ray Bradbury makes this clear by making plenty of references to the lack of noise. In the very first line of the story he says, "To enter out into the silence that was the city at eight o'clock." He keeps saying Leonard is alone, even though he is not. "An entire street would be startled by the passing of a lone figure." The sentence portrays the idea of long and echoing empty streets, it also means Leonard himself had to be silent so he wasn't startling anyone. The world that Bradbury has created seems a very dark, empty and soulless one. One the reader would not wish to live in.
Usually Science-Fiction writers exaggerate features of their own contemporary world, Bradbury wrote "The Pedestrian," in 1964. In this year, the U.S.A was launching attacks on North Vietnam, People were investigating the assassination of President Kennedy and a lot of medical advances were taking place for example the first lung transplant was carried out. Also other technology was being invented such as the VCR, the computer mouse and China had launched its first nuclear bomb. Technology was becoming more advanced, and this is what Ray Bradbury is warning us of if we depend on it too much. The people who made the technology and the people who use it are represented by the people in the houses. Also a bit of Ray Bradbury is in the protagonist. The people in the houses are lifeless, "As good enough as dead." In Leonard's opinion. "Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now." Tomblike refers to death, a house is where people live
and a tomb is where dead people are left to rest. "People sat like the dead." Ray Bradbury compares the people in the houses to the dead as they are inanimate. This paragraph is quite clever as it gives the reader hard-hitting metaphors and similes. The last sentence makes the reader think and sympathize with the lifeless people in the houses- "the grey multicoloured lights touching their faces, but never really touching them." It gives the impression that they cant connect with the television on an emotional level.
The pedestrian's main theme is modern technology taking over from nature. The author repeats this theme, throughout the story. He does this by comparing advance technology to nature, "these highways, too were like streams in dry season." The dry concrete is being compared to riverbeds, reinstating that technology is taking over nature. "Concrete walk, to step over grassy seams." This comment is talking about the grass growing between the slabs of concrete on the pavement; nature being pushed out by modern society. Bradbury also uses the phrase "hidden sea," to say that the sea is hidden by all the buildings in front of it. It seems sad that in this world people are not taking good care of natural things around them.
Unlike most of Leonard's fellow civilians, Leonard is a free spirit unconfined by television or modern technology. Leonard's favourite hobby is walking, Bradbury chose to make this character walk because he isn't using any technology, this also links him back to nature, also walking is an individual activity and suggests freedom. Leonard is an individual in this story, and shares nothing with anyone, he does not have a wife. In this story Leonard is compared to animals that fly. This reinforces the idea of freedom. Also, nature is being pushed out in favour of modern technology in this new society, a bit like Leonard himself. "He stood entranced, not unlike a night moth stunned by illumination and then drawn towards it." This gives the impression that he is slightly vulnerable, since his attitudes are quite primitive, he seems an easy target for dismissive superpowers, "with only his shadow moving, like the shadow of a hawk in mid-country." This statement gives the idea of being alone. Not just alone in the street, in which he is walking, but alone because he has no family and nothing in common with anyone. At the end of the story Leonard is taken away to a Psychiatric Centre for Regressive Tendencies, the minority is defeated. This adds to the pessimistic tone of the story.
This story leaves the reader thinking what the future might be like. I liked this story, although I would have preferred that Bradbury, explained the life's of the people in the houses a little bit more. I also would have preferred that Ray Bradbury could have made Leonard's journey through the city a little bit more exciting and that Bradbury could have explained the sights and sounds a little bit more. I feel the text does not create a realistic view of the future, but it is very political. I like how Bradbury makes subtle references to things in the story, making it more powerful and intriguing. This story shows how subtle references to everyday things can make a story more interesting, how sci-fi writers exaggerate features of the modern day and how writers in general put themselves in their characters.
"The Pedestrian" offers a glance into the future, where a man, Leonard Mead, goes for long walks every evening by himself. The year is 2053, and Mr. Mead is the only pedestrian near his home. He has never seen another person out walking during the many hours that he has strolled. He lives by himself - he has no wife, and so it is a tradition for him to walk every evening. It is never said explicitly in the story, but it can be understood that he is the only, or one of the only, walker in society.
On this particular evening, a police car stops him and orders him to put his hands up. He answers a series of questions about his life and family, and his answers are unsatisfactory to the police. This car is the only remaining police car in the area. After the election last year, the force was reduced from three cars to one because crime was ebbing and they were seen as unnecessary. When Mr. Mead answers the question of employment by saying he is a writer, the police interpret his answer as "unemployed." They order him to enter the car despite his protests, and as he approaches he realizes there is no driver at all - the car is automated.
Mr. Mead is filled with fear as he sits down in the cell-like backseat. The car informs him that he is being taken to a psychiatric center because of his regressive tendencies. His behavior is not acceptable in society - no one walks anymore and it is queer that he continues to do so as his primary hobby. En route, they pass his house, which is the only house that is lit up and inviting to the outside eye. Mr. Mead's behavior is completely atypical of the society in which he lives.
Once again, Bradbury shows his skepticism of technology and "progress" in "The Pedestrian." In this story, a popular pastime is viewed as regressive, outdated, and abnormal. Mr. Mead's behavior is deemed threatening even though it is not hurting anyone - the powers in charge believe that his determination to walk every night could upset their social stability. He does not have a viewing screen in his house, which is expected of the members of this society. His behavior proposes an alternative activity that the government does not approve of, and this threatens their monopoly on control.
The act of ostracizing someone who is different than the rest of the group appears again, which is a common theme in Bradbury's stories. The police car, a representative of the powers in control, disapprove of his behavior, but the entire society disapproves as well. Ostracizing him is another form of censorship. His lit up house is symbolic of his difference from the rest of society. He is very easily identified as someone who is different.
The story calls into question the idea of progress for the sake of progress. An automated police car is programmed to stop Mr. Mead, even though he has not committed an offense. There is no room for human discretion and judgment in a world that is fully automated. Additionally, the viewing screen is considered a way to distract the public and keep them under the watchful eye of the government. A roaming public that is out walking is much harder to control than one that is stationed in front of its television set. Thus Bradbury's story raises the question of, "What does progress really mean? Is advancement, regardless of the consequences, a positive step in the right direction?"
Additionally, this story highlights the dangers and "slippery slope" of a government determining what is best for a group of people without their input. What exactly does "regressive tendencies" mean, and who has decided that walking means being regressive? Does our society resemble that of the pedestrian's, and if it does, is that a good or bad thing? Once again, Bradbury's stories prompt us to reflect on our surroundings and continue to be relevant despite a different temporal age.