The Other Foot by Ray Bradbury, 1951
The magic trick:
Coming up with a groundbreaking concept
I praised Bradbury for a similarly top-notch concept last October in his story, “The Veldt.” Whereas I was impressed by Bradbury’s ability to take the concept and execute it perfectly in “The Veldt,” I would argue that the actual story in “The Other Foot” does little to expand upon its initial idea.
Let’s be clear: the idea is a great one. Bradbury deserves much credit for his remarkably progressive social conscience. He imagines a future in which much of Black America has escaped an atomic war on Earth for a new, more peaceful life on Mars. As the story begins, a white man is visiting the planet for the first time in 20 years. The setup allows Bradbury to make a mockery of segregation and America’s attitudes toward race.
Unfortunately, the plot falls flat, with characters playing out more as types than as individuals, and the storyline taking predictably sappy turns. Too bad. Bradbury might have had a classic in the works. As it is, “The Other Foot” is a better idea than story. There is, of course, a lot to be said about a good idea. And that’s quite a trick on Bradbury’s part.
And Willie began the stenciling in yellow paint. He dabbed on an F and an O and an R with terrible pride in his work. And when he finished it the conductor squinted up and he read the fresh glinting yellow words: FOR WHITES: REAR SECTION. He read it again. FOR WHITES: He blinked. REAR SECTION. The conductor looked at Willie and began to smile.