Describe the society in which Leonard Mead lives in Ray Bradbury's short story The Pedestrian.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Ray Bradbury's short story "The Pedestrian," Leonard Mead lives in a reclusive society, where the citizens are completely consumed with technology and remain indoors to watch television throughout the night. In the story, Leonard Mead embarks on an evening walk through the city, which is barren and deserted at this time of night. He is the only citizen roaming the streets and walks past dimly lit homes. Families consume mindless entertainment and refuse to leave their buildings. The narrator compares Leonard's casual walk down the empty city streets to touring a graveyard at night, and the reclusive citizens are associated with "gray phantoms" sitting in their "tomb-like homes."

As Leonard is walking down a side street, he is stopped by an automated police cruiser. The machine proceeds to arrest him for behaving like a pedestrian and takes him to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies. The fact that Leonard's occupation as a writer is no longer considered a valid profession and he is arrested for being a pedestrian highlights the oppressive, ignorant culture of Bradbury's futuristic society. Leonard's arrest implies that the government censors knowledge and considers intellectuals a threat to society. Although Leonard is depicted as a nature-loving, active man, he is considered an outcast. The dimly lit homes and barren cityscape also underscore the depressing, superficial culture. Intellectualism is obsolete, citizens are completely reliant on technology, and social interaction does not exist.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The society in which the protagonist of The Pedestrian resides can best be categorized as dystopian totalitarian. Bradbury, whose later novel Fahrenheit 451 provided one of literature's more compelling depictions of a futuristic dystopian society, in The Pedestrian provides hints of what was to come. Leonard Mead is something of an anachronism in the society depicted in this story. Unlike all of his neighbors and, presumably, most if not all of the city's three million people, Mead remains very much a gregarious individual, longing for human interaction outside the walls of his brightly lit home. The mere fact that his home is brightly lit, in fact, sets him apart from all others. Leonard is fond of walking at night, during which jaunts he gazes at the "cottages and homes with their dark windows." The occupants of those houses, Mead knows, are fixated on their televisions to the exclusion of all else. As The Pedestrian continues, Leonard is clearly an anomaly, whispering to the houses he passes on his walks as if expecting these inanimate structures to respond because he knows the occupants inside will not.

During much of Bradbury's story, the reader learns that this desolation despite the enormity of the city is the norm in the future depicted. Much worse are the intimations of a thoroughly autocratic regime that begin to emerge with the introduction of the city's lone police vehicle, the other such vehicles discarded due to the absence of crime--itself an ironic but accurate suggestion of the "beneficial" aspects of living in a repressive society. Mead's interrogation by the "police voice" suggests such an environment in which freedoms of thought, assembly, and speech have long been discarded in favor of passivity and security--again, themes that would characterize Fahrenheit 451 upon publication two years after The Pedestrian. The final indication that this is the type of society in which Leonard Mead lives is the police response to his request as to where "they" are taking him: the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies. Totalitarian regimes are well-known, especially the former Soviet Union, for interpreting nonconformist tendencies as indications of mental illness; to whit, only an insane person would question the dictates of an all-powerful regime. And such regimes are equally well-known for using all means of mass communication to reinforce the message that utopia exists and that resistance to that utopia is futile. That all of this city's citizens sit passively in front of their television sets rather than engaging each other is a testament to that sentiment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The people in the society of “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury have retreated into their dark living rooms to watch television.  They no longer find the need to go outside or socialize with other people as they seem content to be entertained all the time.  Even crime is non-existent in this society; there is only one robotic police car for the three million people living in the city.  Mead is an anomaly in this society as he still enjoys taking walks, breathing fresh air, and enjoying nature.  He doesn’t even own a television which makes him different from everyone else.  Once a writer, Mead hasn’t written anything in years because society doesn’t demand novels, magazines, or any other kind of written print.  They are so obsessed with television that they no longer feel they need the knowledge books will give them. 

Mead seems so “odd” to the robot police because he doesn’t own a television, he claims he is a writer, and he is unmarried.  He is so unusual in this society that the police arrest him and pack him off to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies. 

The people and this society are described by Bradbury as lonely and empty, and they are “phantoms” casting shadows on the wall of their “graveyard” homes.  It is a pitiful existence where people have traded entertainment for an active, involved life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial