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Set in the city on an early November evening in the year 2053 at 8:00 pm, The Pedestrian is a powerful fable about the glories of walking as a human activity, but the perils of walking in an age that no longer walks, sees, listens, or thinks. Walking “was what Mr. Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do.” It has been during this “ten years of walking” “just walking” “every night” for “hours and miles” at a time that Leonard Mead has come to be a man that clearly sees his world. In fact, Mr. Mead is a model for us all. It is astonishing what Leonard has come to see in all this time of walking.

Mr. Mead was at one time a “writer,” but now that “magazines and books didn’t sell anymore” he did not write. It may very well be that where Leonard used to write to see, he now walks to see. Mead lives in a time when most people simply stay at home with their “viewing screen.” It is on his many walks that Leonard observed the empty and alienated lives that people in 2053 were merely passing through. Their homes are described as “tomb like building(s)” inhabited by “gray phantoms.” It is in this wasteland that Mead makes his daily “journey” on the streets overgrown with grass, due mainly to the non-use by any other pedestrians.

Not all is hopeless as Mead walks. Once he thinks that he hears the “murmur of laughter” but sadly concludes that it is not. Even when the humane is absent, Leonard is still a human who is walking and who is seeing. A scene of keen engagement occurs when the reader is with Mead as “he listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction,…occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.”

It is in this world of alienation, loss of walking, where most have their viewing screen “to see with” that normalcy has been defined to match social behavior and Leonard Mead is simply odd. On one particular evening, he is accosted by police. Even Leonard is incredulous because police are “…a rare, incredible thing; in a city of three million, there was only one police car left…” This story, as well as Fahrenheit 451, seems to make the case that social and cultural change came first, and then political and municipal changes followed. In other words, there was no longer a need for police (except for the extreme oddities such as Leonard Mead) because with the decline of literacy, civility, and conversation, the masses were no longer good or bad citizens. In fact they were not citizens at all. It is in this barren world that Leonard Mead, the walker and seer, is ordered by the police to “Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!” It is in this world that such misbehavior as walking merits a trip to the “Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.”

Many of Bradbury’s stories blend both a dark realism with elements or hints of hope. This story is of that type. The story ends with both a reference to “one particular house” that was brilliantly illuminated. This house was Leonard Mead’s. However, the story also ends with the police car that has Mead in it, headed toward Meads new destination. Behind is left “empty riverbed streets…empty sidewalks, and no sound and no motion all the rest of the chill November night.”

Throughout the story, light and darkness are contrasted. In reference to people, we read of the artificial light of their televisions with “the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces,” on the streets of the “infrequent lamplights” and with Leonard’s arrest of the “fierce white cone of light” the police car shined on him. Apart from the stunning description of Leonard’s home all aglow, is an early reference to lights in terms of a simile. “There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and made lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside you; you could feel the cold light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow.”

It could be argued that The Pedestrian is a tale that celebrates one of the most human of endeavors. The story conveys the activity of walking, with all of its possibilities for sight, and in Mead’s case, with all of its perils in a dystopian world. It is walking that forces the walker to breathe deeper, and possibly breathe deeper of life, and potentially moves the walker to deeper reflection on what is seen and heard and what might be known. 

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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