Beyond delving into racism and revenge, “The Other Foot” also explores the tensions that exist between individuals and groups. Throughout the story Willie holds immense sway over his fellow Martians, who are quick to give in to a mob mentality at the expense of independent thought. Willie proves influential enough to stoke vengefulness, racism, and cruelty in the hearts of his followers, whom Bradbury repeatedly presents as a single entity. Hattie, meanwhile, proves pivotal in undoing Willie’s work and getting her husband—and the whole community—to think clearly and humanely again. Through Hattie’s actions and Willie’s eventual change of heart, the story highlights the immense power individuals can have on their community—for better and for worse.
For most of the story, Willie actively influences other Martians to adopt his own feelings of hatred and his desire for vengeance. On the way to the white man’s landing point, he gruffly admits to his wife that he stopped by every house in the city and urged residents to fetch their guns and ropes to “be ready” for the arrival. He barks orders at others, clearly enjoying the sense of power that comes with being able to control a crowd. When the town mayor objects to his actions, for example, Willie is not cowed, retorting that they can simply elect a new mayor.
In the moments before the white man’s rocket touches down on Mars, Willie hands out guns to a crowd described as full of people “so close together it looked like one dark body with a thousand arms reaching out to take the weapons.” This description underscores the notion of the mob as a single entity antithetical to diverse or independent thought. Many people feel unwillingly roped into the action, but the pressure to follow the group proves too strong to defy. When Willie calls out to the crowd to ask if they’re ready for the white man’s arrival, half of the crowd yells “Ready!” while the “other half murmured and moved like figures in a nightmare in which they wished no participation.” Many Martians are clearly reticent to partake in violence, but the herd mentality that Willie has created has pressured everyone to conform to one person’s will—in this case, Willie’s. When someone yells that the rocket is approaching, “Like marionette heads on a single string, the heads of the crowd turned upward.” This language again underscores the notion of the crowd as a puppet controlled by an outside string rather than its own convictions.
After the white man lands and asks humbly for the Martians’ help, the crowd again turns to Willie for instructions: “Willie Johnson held the rope in his hands. Those around him watched to see what he might do,” Bradbury writes. Instead of thinking about the white man’s words for themselves, people look to Willie to tell them how to feel and react, once again highlighting the power that individuals can hold over their community and the danger of suppressing independent thought.
In contrast, Hattie is able to use her empathy and sensitivity to encourage the community to think clearly again. In the tense silence following the white man’s request, Hattie realizes that her husband’s influence over the mob means that he is the only one who can dismantle it. However, instead of simply waiting for her husband to react, Hattie takes action: “She stepped forward. She didn’t even know the first words to say. The crowd stared at her back; she felt them staring.” Hattie skillfully directs the conversation in ways that helps Willie see that physical remnants of racism were destroyed in the war. The second Willie realizes this and drops the noose from his hands, the crowd takes its cue: people “ran through the streets of their town and tore down the new signs so quickly made, and painted out the fresh yellow signs on streetcars, and they cut down the ropes in the theater balconies and unloaded their guns and stacked their ropes away.” By quickly tearing down the newly installed artifacts of racial discrimination, the Martians seem to realize that they were swept up in Willie’s wave of hatred and were not thinking for themselves.
Bradbury’s story ultimately cautions against giving in to mob mentality at the expense of independent critical thought. Written in the midst of a deeply segregated America, “The Other Foot” encourages readers to be bold and stand up for integrity and acceptance just like Hattie does—even if doing so means confronting to loved ones (like Willie) or stating an unpopular opinion. More specifically, it suggests the extraordinary power of individuals to fight the mob mentality of racism in their own communities.
The Individual vs. The Group ThemeTracker
The Individual vs. The Group Quotes in The Other Foot
All along the road people were looking up in the sky, or climbing in their cars, or riding in cars, and guns were sticking up out of some cars like telescopes sighting all the evils of a world coming to an end.
The people were so close together it looked like one dark body with a thousand arms reaching out to take the weapons.
She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with. It was teetering now. But which was the keystone, and how to get at it? How to touch them and get a thing started in all of them to make a ruin of their hate?
“The Lord’s let us come through, a few here and a few there. And what happens next is up to all of us. The time for being fools is over. We got to be something else except fools. […] now the white man’s as lonely as we’ve always been. He’s got no home now, just like we didn’t have one for so long. Now everything’s even. We can start all over again, on the same level.”