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:
In the operating room there were whispered introductions: "Dr. Remington, Dr. Mitty. Dr.
Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty." "I've read your book on streptothricosis," said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking
hands. "A brilliant performance, sir." "Thank you," said Walter Mitty. "Didn't know you were in the States,
Mitty," grumbled Remington. "Coals to Newcastle, bringing Mitford and me up here for a tertiary." "You
are very kind," said Mitty. A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many tubes
and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. "The new anesthetizer is giving away!"
shouted an intern.
- Explain why the author makes use of jargon in this fantasy. (4)
- Why is the word "tertiary" important in this fantasy? (2)
- What does the expression "Coals to Newcastle" mean in this fantasy? (4)
- "You are very kind," said Mitty. What is Walter's attitude? (2)
There is no one in the East who knows how to fix it!" "Quiet, man!" said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He
sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep . He began fingering
delicately a row of glistening dials. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped.
- Quote three consecutive words which convey Walter's calm control of the situation. (1)
- Why, do you think, does the author have Walter fix the machine with a "fountain
A nurse hurried over and whispered to Renshaw, and Mitty saw the man turn pale. "Coreopsis has set
in," said Renshaw nervously. "If you would take over, Mitty?" Mitty looked at him and at the craven figure
of Benbow, who drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two great specialists. "If you wish," he said.
They slipped a white gown on him, he adjusted a mask and drew on thin gloves; nurses handed him
shining . . .
- Explain why Renshaw turned pale after the nurse had spoken to him. (2)
- What is conveyed about Benbow if he is described as "craven"? (2)
- Explain why the words "the two great specialists" are meant ironically. (4)