The Death of the Literate World in “The Pedestrian”

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The Death of the Literate World in “The Pedestrian”

Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Pedestrian,” shows the not-too-distant future in a very unfavorable light. The thinking world has been eaten away by the convenience that is high technology. This decay is represented by the fate that befalls Leonard Mead. Though only an isolated incident, it foreshadows the end of thinking, literate society.

The world in the year 05 is populated by people who are more dead than alive. Their technology has made them very lazy. Walking has become obsolete, as the title of the story indicates. Leonard Mead is not a pedestrian; he is, in a city of three million people (105), the pedestrian. Walking had become so uncommon, that the sidewalk was “vanishing under flowers and grass” (104-105). Bradbury further illustrates the lack of foot traffic by stating that Mead had walked for ten years without meeting another person on the street (105). If the process of evolution holds true, the inhabitants of Bradbury’s future world will soon be without legs. Bradbury describes vividly the way these people hold their automobiles in a god-like reverence, describing their cars as “scarab-beetles” (105). The scarab-beetle was revered in ancient Egypt as a sacred symbol of the soul.

Complementing the people’s lazy bodies are their lazy minds. State of the art viewing screens have reduced the population to couch potatoes. The ease in which they live their lives has turned them from vibrant, thinking people into dull, lifeless zombies. Bradbury describes them in front of their televisions as “[sitting] like the dead, the gray or multi-colored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them” (105). Bradbury’s description of the “faintest glimmers of firefly light [appearing] in flickers behind their windows” (104) is a negative allusion to their brain activity. With everyone staring blank-faced at his television set all night, conversation has become a lost art. Leonard Mead hears nothing but “whisperings and murmurs” (104) coming from the open windows he passes. The human voice has become so scarce, Mead hesitates each time he hears one (104). Clearly Mead yearns to have any sort of conversation with a real person. Reading has also become a casualty within the technologically advanced world of the twenty-first century. Mead was a writer, but “he hadn’t written in years” (105). Dependence on television had created a world in which “magazines and books didn’t sell anymore” (105). Movie versions of books were as close as these people came to reading.

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The atmosphere is gloomy, with several references to a dying civilization. First, the story is set in November. It is the beginning of the end. Secondly, Bradbury describes walking through Mead’s neighborhood as “not unequal to walking through a graveyard” (104). Another reference to the doomed society is Bradbury’s description of the houses as being “tomblike buildings” (104).

But among this garbage heap of humanity stands Leonard Mead, a kind of Anti-Christ. Mead represents the last of the thinking human beings. Bradbury’s description of Mead as being “alone in this world of 05, A.D., or as good as alone” (104) is a reference to this situation. It is significant that Mead begins his walk “in a westerly direction” (104). Like the sun passing from view, so is the walking, talking, thinking man. Mead is a social dinosaur, doomed to extinction by a world supposedly more advanced. Mead’s encounter with the police car, and its “metallic voice” (105), represents in microcosm the stamping out of literate society. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the description of the police spotlight, which “held [Mead] fixed, like a museum specimen, needle thrust through the chest” (105). The accomplishments of Leonard Mead and his kind will shortly be nothing more than exhibits in televised museums. A more subtle allusion to the fate of Leonard Mead is the street where he lives, South Saint James (105). Saint James was one of the twelve apostles, one who became a martyr for his beliefs.

Bradbury’s story is a bizarre twist to the Peter Principle. Man’s technological advances have eliminated the need for man. Bradbury brings his point home when the police car, carrying Leonard Mead, passes his brightly lit home. The bright lights represent the illumination of knowledge. Though the house is Mead’s, the police car passes it by, bringing an end to the last hope of a victory of humans over machines.

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