What are some elements of a dystopian society present in "The Pedestrian"?

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One characteristic of a dystopian society is that citizens are thought to be under constant surveillance by a governing force. On the night when Leonard Mead is captured, his solitary walk is observed and noted as suspicious behavior by the police, at a time when only one police car is...

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One characteristic of a dystopian society is that citizens are thought to be under constant surveillance by a governing force. On the night when Leonard Mead is captured, his solitary walk is observed and noted as suspicious behavior by the police, at a time when only one police car is thought to remain. Leonard's "crime" is considered threatening enough to allocate the primary peacekeeping resources to remove him from the city. The police car also operates solely on technology, down to its "metallic voice." This is another characteristic of dystopian literature: technology seems to overtake humanity in some form and is left to reign over mankind, even making decisions regarding the lives of the citizens.

Another characteristic of dystopian literature is the portrayal of humans living in a dehumanized state. In this story, Leonard notes the very absence of humanity in the world around him. People are sequestered in their houses, focused on the entertainment that their televisions can bring them. Leonard reflects,

In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.

In his society, people have lost the ability to interact with the natural world and, therefore, with each other. This is reflected in the metaphorical way the author links the technology of the daytime to natural images:

He came to a cloverleaf intersection which stood silent where two main highways crossed the town. During the day it was a thunderous surge of cars, the gas stations open, a great insect rustling and a ceaseless jockeying for position as the scarab-beetles, a faint incense puttering from their exhausts, skimmed homeward to the far directions. But now these highways, too, were like streams in a dry season.

The images of nature here are reflective of death and dying: ceaseless, faint, skimmed, dry, silent, thunderous. As humanity has retreated more and more into technology to sustain itself, it has sacrificed life-giving connections.

A final characteristic of dystopian literature is a feeling that conformity is the ultimate goal. In this story, Leonard is seen as standing in direct opposition to the expectation of conformity through this solitary walk around the city. The police voice questions him three times in a row about "walking" when he is stopped and then comes back to question it again. When Leonard confesses that he has no "viewing screen" at home, the police voice stands in silent accusation. Leonard is seen as making individual choices, and that is simply not an option in his society.

In their quests to create a perfect utopia, these societies have actually created innately flawed dystopias, which is the ultimate point Bradbury creates through his various works of dystopian fiction. The freedom of individuality allows for flaws in societies, but the only other option is to remove individuality from society completely—and that presents an even more dire reflection of humanity.

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definition for "dystopia."  

An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.

That definition is fairly narrow in my opinion and does not nearly encompass many of the dystopian novels that exist today.  Take The Giver as an example.  Most literary scholars would certainly classify that society as dystopian; however, the characters in the novel do not lead fearful lives.  They cannot.  That emotion has been eliminated.  

"The Pedestrian" is similar.  The people that are in their homes watching TV are not being forced their by government, nor are they acting out of fear for their lives, and I do not think the story strongly supports the idea of a dehumanized population; therefore, I think we should expand our working definition of "dystopia" to include a few more characteristics.  Let us use the following characteristics of a dystopian society in order to analyze "The Pedestrian."

  1. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of society.
  2. Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted.
  3. A figurehead or concept is worshiped by the citizens of the society.
  4. Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance.
  5. Citizens have a fear of the outside world.
  6. Citizens live in a dehumanized state.
  7. The natural world is banished and distrusted.
  8. Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad.
  9. The society is an illusion of a perfect Utopian world.

From that list of characteristics, readers can see that "The Pedestrian" fits several quite well.  I definitely see elements of the third criterion in the story.  While there is not a particular person that is being worshiped, it is clear that the general population worships and reveres their "viewing screens."  Nobody comes outside anymore.  Socialization in person just does not happen.  I believe that Leonard's society worships entertainment and that worship functions as a form of control. 

"What is it now?" he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. "Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?"

Elements of the fifth criterion are also seen in the story.  Leonard seems to be the only person that goes outside anymore. We are told that he is practically alone in the world.  It appears that people never leave their homes. 

He was alone in this world of A.D. 2053, or as good as alone.

Perhaps the people are simply that addicted to entertainment, or they are fearful of leaving their homes.  We are not told this explicitly, but to the people of 2053, the outside world does not offer anything good. The seventh characteristic  would apply here as well.  Leonard is the only person left that seems to consider time outside beneficial. He is such an anomaly in this regard that he is picked up by a police car and taken to a mental hospital. This is also characteristic eight.  Leonard is punished for being an individual.  He is not breaking any law; however, he is acting so far outside of the norm that he is not allowed to continue walking around his neighborhood.  He is taken to a psychiatric center presumably to be studied and fixed.

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