Discussion Topic

Mr. Mead's arrest and crime in "The Pedestrian."

Summary:

In "The Pedestrian," Mr. Mead is arrested for the crime of walking alone at night, which is considered suspicious and antisocial behavior in a future society dominated by television and lack of social interaction.

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Why was Mr. Mead arrested in "The Pedestrian"?

Ray Bradbury's story "The Pedestrian" is set in a futuristic nightmare world in which technology has taken over everything and people are dehumanized. Mr. Mead, not unlike Ray Bradbury himself, is out of step with the increasingly mechanized world. Mr. Mead takes pleasure in simple, human things such as going for walks by himself at night. This used to be a commonplace activity for human beings. They would often stop and talk to neighbors sitting on their front porches. But by this unspecified date in the future it is considered a sign of abnormality or criminal intentions. At the very end of the story the author describes what the city looks like at night. Everybody is inside watching television. Everybody is isolated.

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.

Mr. Mead is not arrested by a policeman but by a car that functions like a robot. It does not have robots driving it, but the car itself is the robot. Mr. Mead, technically speaking, is not being arrested but being taken into protective custody on the grounds that he is a danger to himself. There must be something wrong with him if he goes out walking in the dark. Maybe he is a victim of Alzheimer's disease! Maybe he is lost. That apparently is why the robot-car tells him:

"Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi," said the iron voice. "But-"

If he had a wife she could testify that he is not lost but has an eccentricity about taking walks by himself at night. He is not a cat burglar or potential rapist. He is obviously a harmless, innocent man, but the fact that he goes walking when every normal person is secluded at home watching television makes him appear mentally unsound.

"Where are you taking me?"
The car hesitated, or rather gave a faint whirring click, as if information, somewhere, was dropping card by punch-slotted card under electric eyes. "To the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies."

Punch-slotted cards were predecessors of modern-day computers.

Mr. Mead, like Ray Bradbury, is a writer. But he hasn't written anything for years.

Magazines and books didn't sell any more. 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.

Bradburn was obviously concerned about the introduction of the new medium of television. "The Pedestrian" was published in 1951. Television hadn't been introduced to the American public until World War II ended, and it took a long while for the reception quality and the program content to make the medium popular. As a writer Bradbury naturally felt threatened. The print media of books and magazines were in danger of losing their dominance and possibly even being totally supplanted by the new mindless, hypnotic audio-visual menace. "The Pedestrian" is history as well as fiction. Now in the twenty-first century we can see that Bradbury's fears were partly justified and partly exaggerated.  

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In "The Pedestrian," what crime did Mr. Mead commit?

In Bradbury's short story "The Pedestrian," Mr. Leonard Mead is arrested by a robotic police car for simply walking in the streets at night and behaving like a pedestrian. In the year 2053 AD, nearly every citizen remains indoors and watches their televisions each night. Mr. Mead is one of the few people who enjoys walking outside to enjoy the natural air. Despite the fact that the city streets are completely barren because people refuse to leave their homes or look away from their television screens, Mr. Mead enjoys his nightly walk through the empty streets. Unfortunately, a completely automated police car stops Leonard during his nightly walk and questions him before demanding that he get into the back of the police car. In Bradbury's dystopian future society, being a pedestrian is suspicious, and this results in Mr. Mead's arrest. While Mr. Leonard Mead sits in the back of the police car, he learns that he is being taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.

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In "The Pedestrian," what crime did Mr. Mead commit?

The “horrible” crime that Leonard Mead commits in “The Pedestrian” is that he is alone and walking down the street. When the one robot police car left in the city of three million stops Mr. Mead, they start questioning him about this unusual habit. The police car finds out that Mr. Mead use to be a writer, but since the society doesn’t read anymore, he is unemployed. They also ask him if he is married, as if that would explain why he needed to take long walks, and he says, “no.” Finally, they discover that Mead walks every night and doesn’t even own a “viewing screen.”  All of this suspicious behavior adds up to Mr. Mead needing to be taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies for a mental “adjustment” that will make him “normal” in society.

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What crime has Mead committed in "The Pedestrian"?

On the surface, Mead has committed the crime of walking for the sake of walking. In this repressed society, citizens are discouraged or maybe even forbidden from walking or leaving their homes at night. The impression is that there is a universal curfew. That is, people must be in their homes by a certain time every night. This is strikingly similar to a prison lifestyle. So, Mead is simply out when he is supposed to be inside. An obedient citizen should be inside, watching thoughtless television shows. 

But it is not just that Mead is out when he should be in. His seemingly innocuous habit of walking at night actually threatens the authorities. His habit is a direct challenge to their authority. There is only one police car because crime is nearly extinct. To keep crime at this low level, the police want no one on the streets. This story suggests that the total elimination of crime comes at the expense of individual and social freedom.

If everyone is basically a prisoner in his/her own home, no crimes will be committed. The catch is that no one is free to do as he/she pleases. Leonard has committed no real crime (from the logical reader's perspective). But within the context of this story, he has threatened authorities with his nightly habit of temporarily escaping from his cell (home). 

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