Analysis of "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury is a science fiction short story first published in 1951. At under 1,500 words, it's an easy but interesting read.
This article starts with a summary and then looks at themes, symbolism and the title.
Summary of The Pedestrian
It is November of the year 2053. Mr. Leonard Mead loves taking long evening walks. The homes he walks past are mostly dark and quiet. He wears sneakers so as not to alert dogs to his presence and thus alarm the homeowners, as they would look out and see a man walking.
This evening he walks west in the autumn cold. He whispers a greeting to each house, and asks what they're watching on T.V.
The street is empty; in ten years of taking walks he has never met anyone else. He comes to an intersection, busy during the day but silent now. He turns off on a side street headed for his home.
He's a block from home when an automated police car comes around the corner and turns a light on him. It orders him to stand still and put his hands up or he'll be shot.
This is the only police car in the city of three million. It asks Leonard his name, profession, and what he's doing. His profession of writer is changed by the police to no profession, because people don't read anymore. Everyone watches T.V.
He's asked why he's walking, his address, if he has an air conditioner and a viewing screen, if he's married, and how often he takes walks. He answers all the questions.
The back door of the car opens and Leonard is ordered to get in. He protests, saying he's done nothing wrong. He looks into the back of the car. It's a clean, metallic little cell.
He's told he's being taken to a psychiatric facility. He gets in. The car drives by his house, the only one lit up in the whole city. It drives him away.
Theme: Numbing Effect of the Media
People in 2053 stay inside in the evenings to watch television. The programming seems designed to keep people passive—shows about cowboys, war, games, revues and slapstick comedy. There don't seem to be any shows that would make people think.
Related to this is the disappearance of reading. There's no serious writing being done about anything important. Of course, reading material can be purely for entertainment as the television lineup is. Even so, reading is a more active pass time than watching television.
People use television to stay connected to the world, not personal interaction. They seem to accept what they're given, and don't look for anything more.
There's no evening activity in this world. Human interaction outside your own family seems to be limited to the day time. This is likely to take care of necessary things like working and running errands. There's no sense of community.
People "[sit] like the dead" in front of their viewing screens. This implies there isn't much interaction between family members.
These societal norms serve to isolate Leonard. He walks alone—certainly no one is going to walk with him if it will label them as deviant.
He's also not married. He says "Nobody wanted me," seemingly as a joke. There's probably some truth to this. His anomalous attitude and behavior could have been too alienating for anyone to see him as a suitable match.
A lack of personal connection is also seen in Leonard's arrest. The robotic police car is programmed to get certain information and make a decision. There's no room for a judgment call or any understanding. Leonard needs an exception to be made. He seems to be hoping for one when looks into the front window, even though he knows it will be empty.
The lack of any human element is also seen in the car, which smells of steel and antiseptic. There's nothing comforting, nothing soft in it.
Leonard's isolation looks like it will continue. He's being taken to a psychiatric facility, another authority like the police. There won't be much room, if any, for human compassion in his evaluation.
Theme: Societal Norms
The norm in this society is to stay inside and watch television. It's abnormal to be outside in the evening taking a walk.
To be seen walking is disruptive to the neighborhood. Leonard makes a point of wearing sneakers, not hard-soled shoes that would alert dogs to his presence.
The fact that Leonard doesn't have a viewing screen in his home is unusual, possibly unique. This seems to count as a major strike against him by the automated police car.
Leonard's walking is so abnormal that the police car is programmed to take him to a psychiatric facility.
The story makes it obvious that just because society views something as abnormal doesn't make it wrong.
1. What is symbolized by the image of Leonard's shadow as the “shadow of a hawk in midcountry”?
This represents Leonard's independence and freedom. He's “free as a bird” in the country as he takes his nighttime walk. When he's confined to the car's jail cell, he becomes a caged bird.
2. What is symbolized by the contrast of light and dark between Leonard's home and the other homes?
As the police car takes Leonard away, he sees his house which "had all of its electric lights brightly lit, every window a loud yellow illumination, square and warm in the cool darkness."
This could symbolize Leonard's enlightenment. He doesn't want to feed his mind with the vapid television programming, preferring the silence of a night time walk. The people who are conforming are in darkness, with only "gray phantoms" from their viewing screens.
It could also symbolize Leonard's aberrant attitude. Normal houses look cold and eerie, while Leonard's place looks warm and welcoming. His house stands out just as much as he does when he's out walking.
3. What is the significance of the title?
The title tells us how society views Mr. Mead.
The police car rejects his claim of being a writer. He isn't married, so he can't identify as a husband, which seems like something that would have helped him: “Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi,” the metallic voice said. His neighbors don't acknowledge him at all.
Ultimately, he can only be identified by his singular peculiarity, as a pedestrian, which makes him mentally unbalanced and possibly criminal.