Walter Mitty is an ordinary, insignificant man who is henpecked or dominated by his wife. People ridicule
him but he escapes from his boring, unhappy existence by fantasising that he is an heroic character who
enjoys various adventures.
In these adventures -- his secret life -- he takes control, people admire and respect him, and he is the
hero who saves the day. These fantasies, however, are always interrupted and we never hear the end
result, although it is clear from his fantasising that he firmly believes he will save the situation.
In each fantasy he possesses a particular skill. There is always an occurrence which leads him into his
next fantasy. The story has even led to a medical term and an adjective: Walter Mitty Syndrome or
Mittyesque -- used to describe people who fantasise in order to escape from the real world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1894. His father is said to have been the
inspiration for the small, timid hero typical of many of his stories -- like Walter Mitty. His mother, on the
other hand, had a comic character, always being the practical joker.
Because he was shot in the eye by one of his brothers and went almost blind, he could not therefore
participate in any serious activities -- like sport -- and so focussed himself on developing his
He attended Ohio State University but never graduated because his poor eyesight prevented him from
taking some mandatory courses. The university would later give him an honorary degree in 1995, over
30 years after his death.
Following the Great War, Thurber began a career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, during
which time he reviewed books, movies and plays. He also wrote for the Chicago Tribune and
then for New York's Evening Post.
He became an editor for The New Yorker in 1927, and it was there that his drawings and doodles,
thrown away as rubbish, were found to be very useful to illustrate his writing. Thus he began a career as
For a period of 20 years, Thurber published his writings and his drawings in The New Yorker.
He married twice, the first time to Althea Adams with whom he had his only child, a daughter. The
marriage, however, ended in divorce and he thereafter remarried to Helen Wismer.
Thurber died from pneumonia following a stroke in 1961. He was then 66 years of age.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done.
"Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done," she said. "I don't need overshoes,"
said Mitty. She put her mirror back into her bag. "We've been all through that," she said, getting out of
the car. "You're not a young man any longer." He raced the engine a little. "Why don't you wear your
gloves? Have you lost your gloves?" Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He
put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on to a red light, he
took them off again. "Pick it up, brother!" snapped a cop as the light changed, and Mitty hastily pulled on
his gloves and lurched ahead. He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and then he drove past
the hospital on his way to the parking lot.
- What leads to the second fantasy? (4)
- "We've been through all that." What is his wife's attitude? (2)
- What makes it clear that Walter is irritated by his wife's nagging? (2)
- How does Walter try to maintain some sense of authority over his own life? How do we know that his
attempt to take some control over his life does not succeed? (4)
. . . "It's the millionaire banker, Wellington McMillan," said the pretty nurse. "Yes?" said Walter Mitty,
removing his gloves slowly. "Who has the case?" "Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, but there are two
specialists here, Dr. Remington from New York and Dr. Pritchard-Mitford from London. He flew over." A
door opened down a long, cool corridor and Dr. Renshaw came out. He looked distraught and haggard.
"Hello, Mitty," he said. `'We're having the devil's own time with McMillan, the millionaire banker and close
personal friend of Roosevelt. Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary. Wish you'd take a look at him." "Glad
to," said Mitty.
- Comment on the use of names in this particular fantasy. (2)
- Why does the author specifically refer to "two specialists"? (2)
- Quote the words which tell the reader that the specialists are struggling to cope with the
- For what reason does the author refer to President Roosevelt? (4)