"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 In this story, a popular pastime is viewed as regressive, outdated, and abnormal.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.
Mankind has made great leaps toward progress with inventions like the television. However, as children give up reading and playing outdoors to plug into the television set, one might wonder whether it is progress or regression. In "The Pedestrian," Ray Bradbury has chosen to make a statement on the effects of these improvements. Through characterization and imagery, he shows that if mankind advances to the point where society loses its humanity, then mankind may as well cease to exist.
Bradbury has elected to reflect the humanity of mankind in the character of Mr. Mead. First of all, Mr. Mead is associated with warm, bright light, which is symbolic of soul. If, during his night walks, people are alerted to his presence, "lights ... click on" (104). In essence, the embodiment of humanity is about. Mr. Mead's house beams "loud yellow illumination" (105). Since literature not only records the history of mankind but also evokes deep feeling among men, it brings this occupation close to the heart of humanity. Third, Mr. Mead is close to nature. Something as simple as taking a walk is "what Mr. Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do" (104). Man is most human when surrounded by the elements. Also, Mr. Mead's shadow is described as the "shadow of a hawk," relating him to a wild and free-spirited bird (104). Last, Mr. Mead is brought into a parallel with the most tender and human holiday observed in the western world when the rush of cold air makes his lungs "blaze like a Christmas tree" (104). The combination of these elements makes Mr. Mead a true representative of humanity.
As a contrast to the humanity portrayed by Mr. Mead, Bradbury has mirrored the characteristics of progress in the police car. The car, as well as Mr. Mead, is associated with light. The light of the car, however, displays the absence of humanity. Rather than the "warm" light of Mr. Mead, the car possesses a "fierce" and "fiery" light that holds humanity "fixed" like a "museum specimen"--something from the past that should be looked at behind an impersonal plate of glass (105-06). When not holding humanity captive, the car's lights revert to "flashing ... dim lights," showing the absence of any real soul (106). The car is representative of several modern inventions, thereby embodying mankind's advancement. It is itself a robot, and it speaks in a "phonograph voice" through a "radio throat" (105-06). Finally, the omission of a human driver emphasizes cold, "metallic" progress (105-06). There is "nothing soft" about the car; all traces of humanity have been cleaned from its "riveted steel" with a "[h]arsh antiseptic" (106). Altogether, these features function to create a picture of unfeeling progress.
The disdain that progress shows for humanity, which results in mankind's loss of soul, is shown through the interaction of Mr. Mead and the police car. The car does not comprehend the need for humanity. It does not understand Mr. Mead's desire to get back to nature--to walk just "to see" (105). It cannot fathom why Mr. Mead has no inclination either to sit in front of a "viewing screen" or to breathe air from an "air conditioner" (105). When the car assigns Mr. Mead "[n]o profession," it is denying the existence of humanity (105). Progress sees no need for humanity; therefore, the car makes no real effort to relate to Mr. Mead. It just locks him away in the "black jail" of its back seat and takes him away (106). Bradbury poignantly has progress drive away the remnants of humanity.
Bradbury stresses death in his imagery to emphasize what life would be like in a world that has let progress drive humanity away. He sets the story in November, near the onset of winter, signifying the coming of death. The dead leaves scattered on the ground are etched with a "skeletal pattern" (104). When Mr. Mead chooses to walk in a "westerly direction," the direction in which the sun sets, it also signifies the coming of death (104). The streets are described as "dry river beds"; there is no life in them (104). People sit "dead" in their "tomblike" homes; walking through the neighborhood is similar to walking through a "graveyard" (104-05). Bradbury's world without humanity has virtually ceased to exist.
Through the characterization and imagery of "The Pedestrian," Bradbury has given a warning of what life might lie ahead if mankind relinquishes its humanity to progress. It would be a great loss to watch children grow into hard, cold "police cars" rather than warm, human "Mr. Meads."
Bradbury, Ray. "The Pedestrian." Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, et al. 2nd ed. New York: MacMillan, 1989. 104-06.