Ray Bradbury's The Pedestrian: Summary, Analysis & Theme

Ray Bradbury's The Pedestrian: Summary, Analysis & Theme
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

Ray Bradbury's 'The Pedestrian' (1951) tells the story of a man arrested for the simple act of taking a walk. This lesson will summarize the short story and analyze its major elements and themes.

Summary

Ray Bradbury's ''The Pedestrian'' opens with Mr. Leonard Meade stepping out for a walk at night. We start to guess that something's strange, since the streets are silent and empty. Meade thinks about which way to go, but concludes it doesn't really matter: ''He was alone in this world of AD 2053, or as good as alone.'' The story's narrator describes the houses that Meade sees as he walks: they're all dark, with only occasional flickers of light. We can guess, or make an inference, that the flickering light is from what the story calls ''viewing screens.'' Meade talks to the houses in a mocking way, saying things like: ''What's up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? ... Eight-thirty pm? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?''

The narrator tells us that in 10 years of walking at night, Meade has never run into another person. It seems Meade wants to keep his dirty little secret to himself: he's learned to wear sneakers so he won't draw attention to himself and so dogs won't follow him. Meade's out of luck tonight, however. As he heads back home, a police car shines its light on him. A voice tells him to stop, and asks him where he's going. Meade says that he's out for a walk, with no particular place to go. The police are very suspicious, and they ask him why he's walking. Meade responds: ''Walking for air. Walking to see.'' The police sarcastically reply: ''And is there air in your house, you have an air conditioner, Mr. Meade?'' Meade is ordered to get in the car. There's no one in the car, however: it's remote-controlled, as empty and lifeless as the street. Meade is taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.

Analysis and Themes

''The Pedestrian'' creates a vivid, memorable setting with relatively few words. We're given a specific date, 2053, and in many ways Meade's world seems like any suburban, sidewalk-lined residential area. Except for the fact that no one ever goes outside, that is. There's almost no backstory here, and the middle of the text, when Meade encounters the police, is almost entirely dialogue. Rather than fill the story with lots of background information, Bradbury uses precisely chosen details to suggest what readers need to know about Meade's world. For instance:

  • The beginning of the story mentions a ''buckling sidewalk,'' suggesting no one uses or maintains it anymore.
  • Meade refers to the houses he sees as ''tombs'' or ''tomblike,'' implying that the people inside are so glued to their viewing screens that they're barely alive.
  • The police car has a ''metallic'' voice, mirroring the empty, metallic interior of the car and the inhuman nature of the setting.
  • As the car pulls away, it passes Meade's house, which is brightly lit, unlike the others. This emphasizes how Meade is set apart.
  • The story's last line repeats the word ''empty'' three times, underscoring the chillingly desolate landscape and Meade's isolation.

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