The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury
Utopia: an ideal place (fictional)
This short story is an example of Dystopian fiction – dealing with a society that embodies a flawed perfection – achieved at a cost.
In the story, Ray Bradbury attacks a society which is, in effect, a police state – a totalitarian regime. The sole representative of the regime is, appropriately, the police car.
Mead is a non-conformist whose ‘crime’ is to walk for pleasure – a most simple and natural activity. The oppressive nature of the regime is emphasised by the fact that such a basic human activity is prohibited and has been eradicated – as indicated by the disused sidewalks.
The nature of this soulless society is emphasised again and again by numerous images connected with death: “dark windows” “not unlike walking through a graveyard” “tomb-like buildings” and “grey phantoms”
By contrast the vivid sensory description of Mead’s walk is conveyed through crisp natural images which evoke the senses and show his delight in simple pleasures and sensations: breathing in the cold November air and its “crystal frost” makes his “lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside” the “branches filled with invisible snow”.
This is a society which (it is implied) is kept docile and uninformed by a diet of poor quality TV programmes (which, we assume from the Police Car’s incredulity when Mead explains that he has no TV, are controlled by the State). The minds of the population have been dulled by the TV they are incessantly and acceptingly fed. Only Mead can see through the banality and predictability of the programmes: ”Where are the cowboys rushing?”
”A dozen assorted murders”
”A comedian falling off the stage”
There is nothing to stimulate the intellect of the population here. Despite the (large) number of channels, there is a complete absence of any political programme which might challenge the government. Possibly suggesting brain-washing. If not, it is clear from the way that the population is described that they are not capable intellectually of challenging the government – they are portrayed as automatons – unthinking, unchallenging, uninformed.
The suggestion is that the minds of this population are chained and dulled by the government’s actions. Informed, intelligent, alert people would pose a threat and ask awkward questions. Mead is the last of such people and his nightly covert walks are, we presume a way to find like-minded people. His rebellion, if we can call it that, is hardly the most active – he seems to have accepted or resigned himself to the fact that he can no longer pursue his career and seems a broken man at the end of the story.
In contrast to the rest of the population, the individuality and free-thinking nature of Mead’s mind is emphasised by natural images. The simile “only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk” conveys both an impression of a hunter and an image of soaring freedom. The fact that “he could imagine himself upon the centre of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert” highlights his individuality and the sense of emptiness that he feels in a society that is, effectively, dead.
The rest of the population and the city itself are portrayed as being dead. The buildings and city are architecturally dead – the “buckling concrete walk” suggesting decay and “tomb-like buildings” suggesting that those inside are dead.
Even Nature itself seemed outraged by the setting and tried, it seemed, to bury it “like cement was vanishing under flowers and grass”
The Police Car
The imagery associated with the police car is harsh, cold, threatening, oppressive, that of hunter and its paralysed prey “flashed a fierce white cone of light upon him”
“It smelled of riveted steel. It smelled of harsh antiseptic” Images which mirror the nature of the regime which is personified and represented by the car. Frequent use of word-choice linked to metallic, robotic, mechanical ideas.
The voice of the...
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