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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber
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modernism

Modernism

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James Thurber's famous short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" first appeared in The New Yorker in 1939. As of this writing, it has been filmed twice. It's unclear whether your question is about modernism itself or modernism as it relates to the story. It certainly...

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James Thurber's famous short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" first appeared in The New Yorker in 1939. As of this writing, it has been filmed twice. It's unclear whether your question is about modernism itself or modernism as it relates to the story. It certainly came out during what is the period of literary modernism, although scholars don't always agree on the exact start and end dates. Many would point to the 1920s as the most important decade for modernism, producing such key works as Joyce's Ulysses, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Thurber, who wrote witty, light, and humorous stories for The New Yorker doesn't seem to have much in common with the radical and experimental authors above. There's nothing particularly avant-garde or innovative about his writing, as amusing as it is.

However, the plot of the story is about a man, somewhat unsatisfied in his own life, who is constantly daydreaming, including episodes where he imagines himself a pilot, a surgeon, and a man waiting to be executed by a firing squad. Modernism was very much interested in the inner states of its characters and in the blur between reality and fantasy, going so far as to question the very nature of both of these concepts. So, in this sense, the themes of "Walter Mitty" are very much in line with the modernist project. Modernism also dealt with characters who were less than heroic or outstanding, something that Mitty, in all his mediocrity and dullness, is certainly part of.

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