30 pages 1 hour read

Ray Bradbury

The Other Foot

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1951

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Revenge and Empathy

Revenge is arguably the most central concern in “The Other Foot,” and it is placed in direct opposition to empathy. The story is clear about the horror and trauma of racism, particularly as it has been inflicted on Willie Johnson. Willie’s rage and hatred are counterbalanced by Hattie’s growing empathy, first for the hypothetical people in the rocket and finally for the old man. This is particularly salient in its historical context: Lynchings were often framed by the communities that committed them as rough justice, punishing Black men for perceived crimes against white women when the ordinary judicial system was seen as too slow or lenient. However, most lynchings occurred before trials had been completed or shortly after sentencing, to say nothing of the fact that some alleged crimes were entirely fabricated. The fact that this did not seem to matter very much to the communities that carried out these killings suggests that they were motivated more by a desire for revenge and the upholding of white supremacy. A lack of empathy was key to the trauma that shaped Willie, who now lacks empathy himself.

Hattie’s past and her particular motivations are more nebulous. Willie implies that something terrible happened to her parents as well as his, but it is never described in the kind of detail used for the lynching of Willie’s father.