To enter out
into that silence that was the city at eight o'clock of a misty evening in
November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over
grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that
was what Mr Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do. He would stand upon the
corner of an intersection and peer down long moonlit avenues of pavement in
four directions, deciding which way to go, but it really made no difference; he
was alone in this world of A.D., 2053 or as good as alone, and with a final
decision made, a path selected, he would stride off, sending patterns of frosty
air before him like the smoke of a cigar.
Sometimes he would walk for hours and
miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the
cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking
through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared
in flickers behind the windows. Sudden grey phantoms seemed to manifest upon
inner room walls where a curtain was still undrawn against the night, or there
were whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomb-like building was still
Mr Leonard Mead
would pause, cock his head, listen, look, and march on, his feet making no
noise on the lumpy walk. For long ago he had wisely changed to sneakers when
strolling at night, because the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his
journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and
lights might click on and faces appear and an entire street be startled by the
passing of a lone figure, himself, in the early November evening.
this particular evening he began his journey in a westerly direction, towards
the hidden sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and
made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside; you could feel the cold
light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow. He
listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction,
and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a
leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights
as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.
in there,' he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. 'What's up
tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and
do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?'
street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the
shadow of a hawk in mid-country. If he closed his eyes and stood very still,
frozen, he could imagine himself upon the centre of a plain, a wintry, windless
desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the streets,
'What is it
now?' he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. 'Eight-thirty p.m.? Time
for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the
that a murmur of laughter from within a moon-white house? He hesitated, but
went on when nothing more happened. He stumbled over a particularly uneven
section of pavement. The cement was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten
years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met
another person walking, not one in all that time.
came to a clover-leaf intersection which stood silent where two main highways
crossed the town. During the day it was a thunderous surge of cars, the petrol
stations open, a great insect rustling and a ceaseless jockeying for position
as the scarab-beetles, a faint incense puttering from their exhausts, skimmed
homeward to the far directions. But now these highways, too, were like streams
in a dry season, all stone and bed and moon radiance.
He turned back on a side street, circling around towards his
home. He was within a block of his destination when the lone car turned a
corner quite suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him. He
stood entranced, not unlike a night moth, stunned by the illumination, and then
drawn towards it.
voice called to him:
still. Stay where you are! Don't move!' He halted.
up your hands!' 'But-' he said.
'Your hands up!
Or we'll shoot!'
The police, of course, but what a rare, incredible thing; in a
city of three million, there was only one police car left, wasn't that
correct? Ever since a year ago, 2052, the election year, the force had been cut
down from three cars to one. Crime was ebbing; there was no need now for the
police, save for this one lone car wandering and wandering the empty streets.
'Your name?' said the police car in a metallic whisper. He
couldn't see the men in it for the bright light in his eyes.
Mead,' he said.
'Business or profession?'
guess you'd call me a writer.”
“No profession,' said the police car, as
If talking to itself. The light held him fixed, like a museum specimen, needle
thrust through chest.
'You might say that,' said Mr Mead. He
hadn’t written in years. Magazines and books didn't sell any more. Everything
went on in the tomb-like houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy.
The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the
grey or multi-coloured lights touching their faces, but never really touching
'No profession,' said the phonograph
voice, hissing. 'What are you doing out?'
'Walking,' said Leonard Mead.
'Just walking,' he said simply, but his
face felt cold.
'Walking, just walking, walking?'
air. Walking to see.'
'Eleven South Saint James Street.'
'And there is air in your house,
you have an air conditioner, Mr Mead?'
'And you have a viewing screen in your
house to see with?'
'No?' There was a crackling quiet that in
itself was an accusation.
'Are you married, Mr Mead?'
'Not married,' said the police voice
behind the fiery beam. The moon was high and clear among the stars and the
houses were grey and silent.
'Nobody wanted me,' said Leonard Mead
with a smile.
unless you're spoken to!'
Leonard Mead waited in the cold night.
'But you haven't explained for what
'I explained; for air, and to see, and
just to walk.'
'Have you done this often?'
'Every night for years.'
The police car sat in the centre of the
street with its radio throat faintly humming.
'Well, Mr Mead,' it said.
'Is that all?' he asked politely.
'Yes,' said the voice. 'Here.' There was
a sigh, a pop. The back door of the police car sprang wide.
'Wait a minute, I haven't done anything!'
walked like a man suddenly drunk. As he passed the front window of the car he
looked in. As he had expected, there was no-one in the front seat, no-one in
the car at all.
put his hand to the door and peered into the back seat, which was a little
cell, a little black jail with bars. It smelled of riveted steel. It smelled of
harsh antiseptic; it smelled too clean and hard and metallic. There was
nothing soft there.
'Now if you had
a wife to give you an alibi,' said the iron voice. 'But - '
'Where are you taking me?'
The car hesitated, or rather gave a faint
whirring click, as if information, somewhere, was dropping card by
punch-slotted card under electric eyes. 'To the Psychiatric Centre for Research
on Regressive Tendencies. '
got in. The door shut with a soft thud. The police car rolled through the night
avenues, flashing its dim lights ahead.
passed one house on one street a moment later, one house in an entire city of
houses that were dark, but this one particular house had all of its electric
lights brightly lit, every window a loud yellow illumination, square and warm
in the cool darkness.
my house,' said Leonard Mead.
No-one answered him.
car moved down the empty river- bed streets and off away, leaving the empty
streets with the empty pavements, and no sound and no motion all the rest of
the chill November night.
Summary and Analysis of "The Pedestrian"
"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.
Bradbury, Ray (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012), was an American author best known for his fantasy stories and science fiction. Bradbury's best writing effectively combines a lively imagination with a poetic style. Collections of Bradbury's stories include The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), The October Country (1955), I Sing the Body Electric! (1969), Quicker Than the Eye (1996), and One More for the Road (2002). His novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) describes a society that bans the ownership of books. His other novels include Dandelion Wine (1957), a poetic story of a boy's summer in an Illinois town in 1928; and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), a suspenseful fantasy about a black magic carnival that comes to a small Midwestern town. He has also written poetry, screenplays, and stage plays.
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury
(a) What are the effects of technological and scientific progress?
(b) What was the purpose of Mead's night walk?
(c) What happened to him at night?
(d) Is the Pedestrian and allegory of future?
(e) What was Mead’s favourite pastime?
(f) How did he address to the houses that were silent?