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.
Ray Bradbury must have felt personally threatened by the epidemic of television which was causing TV antennae to sprout like fungus on roofs all over America. Bradbury was a creative writer, and TV could put a lot of creative writers out of work. When Mead tells the robot-car he is a writer, the robot-voice records: "No profession."
"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 tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.
Television was not marketed to the American public until after World War II ended in 1945. Manufacturers of all kinds were too heavily engaged in wartime production. TV was still in its infancy when Bradbury published "The Pedestrian" in 1951. The programming was local and of poor quality. As Mead notes:
"Hello, 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?"
A lot of the programming consisted of showing old cowboy movies, which were cheap and plentiful. There were also lots of old-time comedy shorts with people throwing pies at each other. But everyone could see that TV was the wave of the future. As more people bought TV sets, advertising on television became more lucrative, which meant that the broadcasters could afford better programs. There were also numerous technical problems to be overcome before a broadcast could be viewed all over America. The solution involved setting up networks that could re-transmit audio and video from one place to another.
Magazines used to print lots of fiction before TV became a competitor. Perhaps as much as fifty percent of the content of magazines was fiction. Even newspapers published short stories, typically in their Sunday supplements. Nowadays it is rare to see a short story in any slick magazine except The New Yorker--and that magazine has cut way back on the amount of fiction it offers. Before World War II there might have been as many as four short stories or short humor pieces in an edition of The New Yorker. Now we see that there is usually only one story and many serious articles. People who are looking for diversion and escape turn to television.
So Ray Bradbury, who had so many ideas and wrote so many short stories, felt financially threatened by the new medium. That was probably his main motive for writing "The Pedestrian." It turned out that Bradbury was one of the writers who not only survived but prospered. Many of his stories and novels were adapted to television. But there were scores of other writers who fell by the wayside. The so-called "pulp magazines" perished quickly. There used to be long rows of pulps in drugstores and other shops. There were many different categories of pulps, including Western, Romance, True Confession, True Detective, Private Detective, and Outdoor Adventure. Now these magazines would only be collectors' items.
What Bradbury predicted has in part come true. There are a great many couch potatoes in America. Television is also a blessing for sick and elderly people however. It provides much entertainment and information for small children--but there is cause for concern that they are too heavily influences by all the commercials for toys, gooey breakfast cereals, and other things.