The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

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In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," what prevents Walter from being brave or bold in his real life?

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In real life James Thurber, the author of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," was badly handicapped because a childhood accident had made him partially blind. In his old age he became totally blind. He was always dependent upon others to a certain extent. The kinds of activities Walter Mitty fantasized about doing would have been impossible for Thurber, although he must have had similar fantasies himself. He was undoubtedly dependent upon his wife and resented that dependency. One of his favorite themes in both his stories and his cartoons was what he called "the war between men and women."

In spite of his serious handicap, Thurber became a highly successful writer and was generally regarded as America's best-loved humorist. He was associated with The New Yorker magazine as a staff writer, a contributor of stories and essays, and a cartoonist from its inception in the 1920s and wrote about his recollections of that peak period in The Years with Ross. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is Thurber's most often anthologized story, but it only provides a glimpse of the wonderful works of this great American humorist.

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Put very simply, Walter Mitty is scared to take any action beyond those accepted by society. He doesn't want to speak up when confronted, in case he will be challenged, and since he has no experience in his real life with challenge, he wouldn't know how to react. He can't even stand up to his wife, who treats him almost like a child; instead, he simply does what she tells him without protest:

In a way he hated these weekly trips to town -- he was always getting something wrong... But she would remember it. "Where's the what's-its- name?" she would ask. "Don't tell me you forgot the what's-its-name."
(Thurber, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," bnrg.cs.berkeley.edu)

There is no sense of what sort of man Mitty was in his youth; he seems to have succeeded at his job long enough to retire, but has no ambition for the...

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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rileyb | Student

Mitty's circumstances make it very unlikely that he could be the hero he wants to be. He is an older man who is starting to have difficulty performing certain tasks, so it is probably too late for him to become a Naval commander, an expert shooter, or a surgeon. Also, the situations in his real life do not call upon him to be brave or bold; for example, Mitty does not have the exceptional courage to buy the correct kind of puppy biscuits or to drive his wife to the hairdresser.

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