Introduction to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a short story by celebrated New Yorker author and cartoonist James Thurber. It was originally published in the New Yorker in 1939, before being included in Thurber’s collection My World and Welcome to It. It is considered one of Thurber’s defining works, and both the literary and cultural impacts of the short story have been significant. The story has been adapted multiple times for film and television, and phrases from it have entered the cultural lexicon. Thurber was known for depicting the struggles and insecurities of everyday people, and the name Walter Mitty has become a synonym for a meek and ineffectual person who is prone to daydreaming.

Escapism and the role of fantasy in everyday life suffuse “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Mitty’s actual life is boring and conventional, and he is dominated by his wife and the other figures of authority that surround him. However, his fantasies allow him to be powerful, respected, and heroic. The contrast between Mitty’s real life and his daring fantasy persona highlights the often disappointing nature of growing up. Adults are expected to abandon childish delusions and dreams, instead joining the workforce and becoming contributing members of society. However, Thurber’s story highlights the importance of imagination and creativity in all facets of life. Without the ability to imagine or dream, life can become dull, and people can succumb to feelings of powerlessness. Ultimately, Mitty’s story reflects the common human desire to be the hero of one’s own story.

A Brief Biography of James Thurber

James Thurber (1894–1961) is a writer whose name has become synonymous with American humor. Throughout his many publications and contributions to the New Yorker, Thurber crafted a uniquely quirky version of Americana. Perhaps his most famous story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (which became a film eight years after its publication), best captures his style. The story deals with an average man whose wild fantasy life takes him on five very different, very humorous adventures. Thurber also had comedic success in the theater with his play The Male Animal and with a one-man show based on his own writings. Thurber even became the subject of a brief, but critically heralded, television series that debuted a few years after his death.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In literature, round characters are characters that have deep and complex personalities, while flat characters are simple and uncomplicated. In James Thurber's popular short story "The Secret Life...

Latest answer posted August 27, 2021, 6:43 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In short, Walter Mitty's wife doesn't think much about her husband's daydreams, as she isn't really privy to his private thoughts. In the opening daydream, Walter Mitty is a respected naval...

Latest answer posted August 26, 2021, 5:13 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In real life, Walter Mitty is no one's hero. In fact, he submits to the will of his wife with barely an effort to protest her many directives. His wife holds the power in their relationship,...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2021, 2:17 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty’s daydreams serve as a mental escape from his mundane real life. The events in the daydreams starkly contrast with the events of Walter’s reality, in which he is an unimportant figure...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

One message that readers can take away from this short story is that even those with the most mundane lives crave a life of adventure. Walter Mitty has outwardly surrendered to a life that is...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2021, 5:50 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The narrative of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” weaves in and out of reality. In order to escape his mundane existence as a henpecked husband, the titular character fantasizes different...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2021, 2:43 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a fictional story written by James Thurber and published in 1939. The story is about a man named Walter Mitty, who has extremely vivid daydreams that serve as...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2021, 11:23 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

At the end of James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Walter’s wife leaves him alone for several minutes to go into a drugstore. While waiting, Walter stands against the wall...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2021, 11:18 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

At the end of James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Walter’s wife leaves him alone to go into a drugstore. Walter waits outside for her and leans against the wall of the...

Latest answer posted August 26, 2021, 11:13 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

At first glance, Mrs. Mitty appears to be a good candidate for the role of primary opposition to her husband, Walter Mitty. She nags him constantly about buying overshoes and puppy biscuits, scolds...

Latest answer posted August 27, 2021, 1:52 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty and his wife are running errands. Mitty is taking his wife into Waterbury to get her hair done, and, after he drops her off, he is supposed to go and buy some overshoes for himself. He...

Latest answer posted August 27, 2021, 4:34 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty has done everything his wife has asked him to do: buy overshoes (even though he doesn’t think he needs them), pick up a box of dog biscuits (while she gets to go and have her hair...

Latest answer posted August 27, 2021, 4:35 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty suffers from feelings of inadequacy and even boredom. His wife makes him feel unimportant and disrespected, and he feels dismissed by other men in society, like those who work at the...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2021, 1:43 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In his second daydream of the story, Walter Mitty becomes a surgeon. There are two other doctors and two specialists already working on the patient, Wellington McMillan, a millionaire banker and...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2021, 12:52 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In this 1939 story, Walter Mitty is, in reality, a henpecked husband driving his wife to the hairdresser while he runs mundane errands such as buying galoshes and puppy food. His dreams symbolize...

Latest answer posted August 26, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Mrs. Mitty seems to view her husband as a somewhat childlike, doddering kind of person. She issues directions to him and bosses him around, speaking to him, not as an equal but as a person to whom...

Latest answer posted August 26, 2021, 12:22 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Mrs. Mitty tells her husband to wait for her on the corner because she’s forgotten something and needs to run into the drugstore. Though she tells him she will be quick, she’s not so quick, despite...

Latest answer posted August 26, 2021, 1:38 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Wellington McMillan, the millionaire banker, is the patient on whom Walter Mitty imagines himself to be operating in one of his fantasies. Evidently, Mr. McMillan is not only a prominent figure in...

Latest answer posted August 27, 2021, 1:06 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty is first jarred out of one of his fantasies by the voice of his wife, who is scolding him for driving too fast. She reminds him, in a sort of astonished way, that she doesn’t like to...

Latest answer posted August 25, 2021, 12:39 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty fantasizes because his own life is so incredibly mundane and because he seems to feel so generally dismissed and unimportant to the people in it. His wife bosses him around, telling...

Latest answer posted August 24, 2021, 11:25 am (UTC)

1 educator answer
Next

Summary