How does the setting of “The Pedestrian” add to the loneliness and isolation felt by Leonard Mead?  

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jules-cordry eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story “The Pedestrian” takes place on a November evening in the year 2053. The protagonist, Leonard Mead, is engaging in his favorite pastime—taking a solitary walk around his suburban neighborhood. Bradbury introduces Leonard’s feelings of loneliness and isolation in the first paragraph when he says, “he was alone in this world of A.D. 2053, or as good as alone.” The empty streets Leonard walks down are described as being like a “graveyard,” where “gray phantoms” appear at the windows of “tomb-like” buildings lit up only by the glow of the “viewing screens” everyone but Leonard seems to own and watch nightly.

The autumn setting, with its dead, “skeletal” leaves and misty air, also contributes to the lonely, melancholy mood, and the cold temperature echoes the emotional coldness of this future world. Leonard seems to enjoy the exhilarating feeling of the “good crystal frost,” but it is a lonely enjoyment: he has nowhere in particular to go, so he is wandering aimlessly, alone on his walk and, we gather, in his society. Though he takes these walks all the time, Leonard has never met another pedestrian, and though he is surrounded by houses full of people, he feels as isolated as if he were in the middle of nowhere:

The street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk in midcountry. If he closed his eyes and stood very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the streets, for company.

Bradbury continues this imagery of emptiness, solitude, and desolation when Leonard pauses at a highway intersection, thinking of how busy and chaotic with cars that same intersection is during the day. Now, though, “these highways, too, were like streams in a dry season, all stone and bed and moon radiance.”

Just as he continues to describe the nighttime streets with imagery that evokes a lonely desert, Bradbury continues to compare the “gray and silent” houses in the neighborhood to tombs in a graveyard when Leonard is being interrogated by the patrol car:
Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.
At the end of the story, Leonard sees his house, where he lives alone, from the window of the driverless patrol car as he is taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies. It is the only house with all its lights on in “an entire city of houses that were dark.” This image illustrates just how alone Leonard is in this future society. Bradbury then returns to the image of the streets as dry streams one last time, emphasizing the themes of loneliness and isolation through the description of silence and motionlessness, and the repetition of the word “empty”:
The car moved down the empty river-bed streets and off away, leaving the empty streets with the empty side-walks, and no sound and no motion all the rest of the chill November night.