Study Guide

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is Thurber's best-known short story. Walter Mitty has become a well-known character in American fiction. The tenth edition of the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines a "Walter Mitty" as "a commonplace unadventurous person who seeks escape
from reality through daydreaming." Waller Mitty, the average, ineffectual American is a recurring character-type in Thurber's fiction. Critics refer to this type of character as the "Thurber male."

However, critics are divided on how to interpret this Thurberian character. On the one hand, Richard C. Tobias's The Art of James Thurber views Thurber as a cerebral comic writer, whose protagonists defeat humdrum reality with their imaginations. On the other hand, Walter Blair and Hamlin Hill discuss Thurber's bleak comic sensibility in their book, America's Humor. Characters like Mitty, Blair argues, let their neurotic fears defeat them, and are unable to cope with the world. In The Georgia Review, Carl M. Lindner sees Walter Mitty as the latest in a line of American male heroes, such as Rip Van Winkle and Tom Sawyer. Like these archetypal comic figures, Mitty chooses to escape society rather than confront it. Refusing to accept adult responsibility, Lindner argues, these figures of masculinity regress to boyish behavior.

Critics disagree about Thurber's portrayal of women as well. Commentators such as Blair and Hill consider him a...

(The entire section is 511 words.)