The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Pieces by James ThurberJames Thurber is universally admired for his hilarious sense of humour, off-beat imagination, and unique take on the world around him. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, in which a young mans fantasies have a much more powerful hold on him than reality, is probably his best-known prose work but this selection also contains wonderfully entertaining essays, poetry and cartoons gathered from all of Thurbers collections. Poking fun at his own weaknesses and those of other people (and dogs) - the English teacher who looked only at figures of speech, the Airedale who refused to include him in the family, the botany lecturer who despaired of him totally - James Thurber is essential reading for everyone who loves to laugh.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Themes
Walter Mitty has a "secret life" not simply because he is an imaginative fellow, but because he is an unhappy man. Though we begin the story in his imagination and follow his fantasies over the course of the narrative, we learn not just about what the man can think up and desire, but also that from which he wants to flee: his nagging wife, his humdrum day-to-day existence, his social ineptness. That his imagination is so constituted means that while it gains strength in inverse proportion to the embarrassment and frustration he feels in "real life," it is also limited by the gaps he has to fill up in the latter. Mitty invents specific stories in order to escape from specific frustrations in his life. Walter Mitty is only able to imagine so vividly and to suffer such intense embarrassment because he possesses a heightened sensitivity. Although it is not made clear whether the narrative is seen entirely from Mitty's point of view, or whether there is an omniscient narrator aware of more than he is, the profusion and vividness of details in the story point towards a character who is painfully aware of all the richness in the world—a richness that he himself has access to only in his fantasies. Although Walter Mitty is very imaginative, one cannot but notice that none of his daydreams are what we might properly call "original": he places himself into a scene that seems taken out of an action story, comic book, or movie.
The theme of success and failure is examined through Mitty's inability to live a fulfilling external life, which causes him to retreat to an internal life full of images of conquest. Walter Mitty is neither exciting nor successful in his everyday life. In fact, the world Mitty lives in seems hellish to him. His wife's nagging voice awakens him from one dream. Like his wife, parking lot attendants and policemen admonish him, and women at the grocery store laugh at him. A bumbling, ineffectual man scorned by others, he feels humiliated by the knowing grins of garage mechanics who know he cannot take the chains off his car's tires.
He is admired for macho qualities like strength, bravery, aggression, lack of emotion, and holding his liquor, and is easily able to dominate the all-male social groups where his imagination makes him a leader. More broadly, the themes and events in the fantasies are directly linked to the frustrations Mitty feels in reality, particularly his sense of not being in control of…. The real-life Walter Mitty keeps his true self hidden, literally and figuratively. In his fantasies, however, Mitty is completely…. Like a child playing pretend, Mitty makes a pocketa-pocketa-pocketa sound effect…. Which guides should we add?