James Thurber is one of America's best known humorists, and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is his best known story. The story was first published in 1939 in the New Yorker magazine to great acclaim. It was reprinted in Thurber's 1942 collection, My World-And Welcome To It and in Reader's Digest in 1943. The story's main character is a middle-aged, middle-class man who escapes from the routine drudgery of his suburban life into fantasies of heroic conquest. Upon the story's publication, Walter Mitty became an archetypal American figure. Today, people still describe a certain kind of neurotic, daydreaming man as a "Walter Mitty type." In 1947, Hollywood released a movie of the same title, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. Although his humorous stories, sketches, and illustrations were well-known during his lifetime, Thurber has received little scholarly attention. Some critics dismissed his work as little more than formulaic and whimsical. More recently, critics have become attentive to Thurber's literary prowess, such as his use of wordplay and attention to narrative form. They have also discussed the darker themes of his work which lurk underneath the hilarity. Others, referring to his tendency to portray domineering women, like Mrs. Mitty, and unhappy, ineffectual men, like Walter, fault his treatment of women and views of marriage.
James Thurber was a prolific writer and artist who published over twenty books of stories, biographies, drawings, sketches, essays, poetry, fables and cartoons. During the 1920s and 1930s, Thurber wrote for the popular and influential literary magazine, The New Yorker. His work for the magazine established his reputation as a comic with a sophisticated sensibility who largely wrote about upper middleclass intellectuals. Much of his work focused on the milieu of East Coast society. Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894, and some of his writing, such as his "mock" memoirs, My Life and Hard Times, treat his experiences as a boy growing up in Ohio. After attending Ohio State University, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Ohio, France, and New York before joining the staff of the The New Yorker in 1927. As.....
As "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" begins, a military officer orders an airplane crew to proceed with a flight through a dangerous storm. The crew members are scared but are buoyed by their commander's confidence, and they express their faith in him. Suddenly, the setting switches to an ordinary highway, where Walter Mitty and his wife are driving into a city to run errands. The scene on the airplane is revealed to be one of Mitty's many fantasies. Mitty's wife observes that he seems tense, and when he drops her off in front of a hair styling salon, she reminds him to go buy overshoes and advises him to put on his gloves. He drives away toward a parking lot and loses himself in another fantasy. In this daydream he is a brilliant doctor, called.....
Chapter Summaries & Analysis
The story begins with a shouting Commander who is in an obviously dangerous situation. The Commander is ordering his Lieutenant to prepare to power up their Navy hydroplane, although it is against the Lieutenant's best judgment because of an impending hurricane. The crew looks on, confident that their Commander, whom they have nicknamed the Old Man, will see them through safely, as it is implied he has done in the past.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," introduces Mr. Walter Mitty as the title character. He is an average, everyday sort of man, with one large exception: his incredibly rich fantasy life. This theme of escaping from a feeble actuality while retreating into a fulfilling dream world is the major issue that the story rides upon. Nearly everything in Walter's life is bringing him down. He is getting older, not the young man he used to be, and is feeling the effects of that. His wife reminds him of this...