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Has Mankind Really Made Progress? A Critical Analysis of the Characterization,Theme, and Imagery of "The Pedestrian"
Mankind has made great leaps toward progress with inventions like the television. However, as children give up reading and playing outdoors to plug into the television set, one might wonder whether it is progress or regression. In "The Pedestrian," Ray Bradbury has chosen to make a statement on the effects of these improvements. Through characterization and imagery, he shows that if mankind advances to the point where society loses its humanity, then mankind may as well cease to exist.
Bradbury has elected to reflect the humanity of mankind in the character of Mr. Mead. First of all, Mr. Mead is associated with warm, bright light, which is symbolic of soul. If, during his night walks, people are alerted to his presence, "lights ... click on" (104). In essence, the embodiment of humanity is about. Mr. Mead's house beams "loud yellow illumination" (105). Since literature not only records the history of mankind but also evokes deep feeling among men, it brings this occupation close to the heart of humanity. Third, Mr. Mead is close to nature. Something as simple as taking a walk is "what Mr. Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do" (104). Man is most human when surrounded by the elements. Also, Mr. Mead's shadow is described as the "shadow of a hawk," relating him to a wild and free-spirited bird (104). Last, Mr. Mead is brought into a parallel with the most tender and human holiday observed in the western world when the rush of cold air makes his lungs "blaze like a Christmas tree" (104). The combination of these elements makes Mr. Mead a true representative of humanity.
As a contrast to the humanity portrayed by Mr. Mead, Bradbury has mirrored the characteristics of progress in the police car. The car, as well as Mr. Mead, is associated with light. The light of the car, however, displays the absence of humanity. Rather than the "warm" light of Mr. Mead, the car possesses a "fierce" and "fiery" light that holds humanity "fixed" like a "museum specimen"--something from the past that should be looked at behind an impersonal plate of glass (105-06). When not holding humanity captive, the car's lights revert to "flashing ... dim lights," showing the absence of any real soul (106). The car is representative of several modern inventions, thereby embodying mankind's advancement. It is itself a robot, and it speaks in a "phonograph voice" through a "radio throat" (105-06). Finally, the omission of a human driver emphasizes cold, "metallic" progress (105-06). There is "nothing soft" about the car; all traces of humanity have been cleaned from its "riveted steel" with a "[h]arsh antiseptic" (106). Altogether, these features function to create a picture of unfeeling progress.
The disdain that progress shows for humanity, which results in mankind's loss of soul, is shown through the interaction of Mr. Mead and the police car. The car does not comprehend the need for humanity. It does not understand Mr. Mead's desire to get back to nature--to walk just "to see" (105). It cannot fathom why Mr. Mead has no inclination either to sit in front of a "viewing screen" or to breathe air from an "air conditioner" (105). When the car assigns Mr. Mead "[n]o profession," it is denying the existence of humanity (105). Progress sees no need for humanity; therefore, the car makes no real effort to relate to Mr. Mead. It just locks him away in the "black jail" of its back seat and takes him away (106). Bradbury poignantly has progress drive away the remnants of humanity.
Bradbury stresses death in his imagery to emphasize what life would be like in a world that has let progress drive humanity away. He sets the story in November, near the onset of winter, signifying the coming of death. The dead leaves scattered on the ground are etched with a "skeletal pattern" (104). When Mr. Mead chooses to walk in a "westerly direction," the direction in which the sun sets, it also signifies the coming of death (104). The streets are described as "dry river beds"; there is no life in them (104). People sit "dead" in their "tomblike" homes; walking through the neighborhood is similar to walking through a "graveyard" (104-05). Bradbury's world without humanity has virtually ceased to exist.
Through the characterization and imagery of "The Pedestrian," Bradbury has given a warning of what life might lie ahead if mankind relinquishes its humanity to progress. It would be a great loss to watch children grow into hard, cold "police cars" rather than warm, human "Mr. Meads."
Bradbury, Ray. "The Pedestrian." Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, et al. 2nd ed. New York: MacMillan, 1989. 104-06.