Compare the symbolism of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" to that of A Marriage Proposal."The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber A Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekhov

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the strongest symbolic comparison of Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and Chekhov's A Marriage Proposal lies in the characters themselves who are archetypal personages.  Both Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov and Walter Mitty are symbolic of neurotic, unrealistic men who fantasize about "masculine pursuits," but are reduced to mere dreams. And, both Natalia Stepanova Tschubukov and Mrs. Mitty are typical shrews.

The marriage suitor, Lomov, and Walter Mitty find their escape from the threats of reality by means of hypochondria and daydreaming.  When, for instance, Lomov comes to propose, he finds that he is incapable of broaching the subject because of his nervousness.  He complains of "a weak heart, continual palpitation," falling into chairs, and when he discusses the meadow that lies between his birchwoods and Natalia's brick earth, their exchange becomes so heated that he reaches desperately for water. Towards the end of the act, he even faints. Similarly, Walter Mitty constantly become discombobulated when he tries to drive in traffic or pull into the garage where he must have someone else remove the snow chains from his vehicle.

Certainly, the "masculine pursuits" of the two neurotic men are all reduced to fantasy or criticism.  When Lomov brags about his purebred dog, Natalia disparages it, reducing him again to his "palpitation," and her father, then, asks,

"What kind of hunter are you? only ride around in order to find out about other people's dogs....

Likewise, Mitty is emasculated by his humiliation at the hands of the traffic policeman and the garage attendent who just tells him to leave the car and he will move it for him.

Contributing to this ridicule of the two men are also the archetypal women, Natalia and Mrs. Mitty, who are symbolic of shrews.  Constantly Walter Mitty's wife addresses him as a child,

"Remember to get those overshoes....Did you get the what's-its-name?...I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home."

In like fashion, Natalia belittles Lomov, insulting his relatives and telling him he has no manners, saying, "Nice sort of hunter you are!  You can't even sit on a horse." 

Assuredly, there are comparisons that easily can be made between the archetypal characters in both Thruber's and Chekhov's narratives.



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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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