abstract illustration of a man's face and several accoutrements: scissors, gloves, glasses, tweezers, facemask, and a cigarette

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

Start Free Trial

What is the mood in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mood is an element within a piece of literature that creates feelings in the reader. Mood is different than tone because tone refers to the author's attitude toward a subject. Sometimes mood is called "atmosphere ," and it can be developed through the usage of setting, theme, tone, and...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access


In general, I would support the notion that "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is lighthearted and playful. It also tends to be upbeat and hopeful. Those are all very positive-feeling moods, and that is one reason why readers across all ages tend to like this story. Hollywood attempted to reproduce that mood in the most recent movie by casting Ben Stiller, a comic actor, as Mitty.

What is truly amazing about the piece is that, despite a mood that is overall positive, Thurber manages to weave in moments where the mood takes a definite turn for the worse. I feel it is appropriate to say that the story creates a depressed, desperate, and even lonely mood. Readers can have fun with Mitty's daydreaming. Most readers have probably been caught daydreaming as well. The problem is that Mitty almost ceaselessly daydreams in order to escape the monotony of his life as well as the presence of his wife. The story leaves readers with a sense of the story's darker mood when it ends with Mitty imagining himself in front of a firing squad; that's not a fun or playful ending.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One way to understand the literary term of mood is to interpret it as the emotional atmosphere of a work of literature. The mood of James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" can be described as dreamy and distracted—as the protagonist is lost in his imagination for much of the story.

This mood can inspire several different emotions in a reader: some readers might feel amused by Walter Mitty's self-indulgent fantasies because they are so unlikely and so fantastical in nature while others might feel a sense of wistfulness and pity. Still others might experience an impatience with Walter Mitty and his life, thinking him a character worthy of criticism. The emotional range of possible reader responses to the short story is reflective of a mood skillfully presented.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The mood of a story is also called its tone, the feeling it produces in the reader. The tone of a story is determined by the author's attitude toward the characters and their situation. Does the author take them very seriously, for example, or does the author find humor in them? The tone in Thurber's story is one of gentle humor. Walter Mitty loses himself in the most thrilling, dramatic adventures, and the humor in the story is created by the contrast between Mitty's mental fantasies and his real life daily activities.

In each of his daydreams, Mitty is the hero--brave, daring, powerful, and the center of everyone's attention. This emphasizes how meek and powerless he really is, pushed around by an overbearing wife. This may make Mitty seem like a sad little man, but Thurber does not emphasize this element in the story. The humorous tone of the story is continued in its conclusion. In Mitty's last fantasy, he stands bravely before a firing squad, scorning death itself, until his wife's voice snaps him back again. The subtle (and funny) suggestion is that for Walter Mitty, facing a firing squad is preferable to dealing with Mrs. Mitty.

Approved by eNotes Editorial