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:
His wife would be through at the hairdresser's in fifteen minutes, Mitty saw in looking at his watch,
unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble drying it. She didn't like to get to the hotel
first, she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in the lobby,
facing a window, and he put the overshoes and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up an
old copy of Liberty and sank down into the chair. "Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?"
Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and of ruined streets.
- How do we know that Walter's schedule is very familiar to him? (4)
- What leads to the fourth fantasy? (4)
"The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir," said the sergeant.
- What do the words "cannonading" and "got the wind up" convey about the
- How is Mitty portrayed as a romantic hero in this fantasy? (10)
- Quote the jargon used in this fantasy. (6)
- Quote the onomatopoeia used in this fantasy and comment on its use. (4)
- What is the mission Walter will undertake? (2)
Explain the references to:
What ends this fantasy? (2)
What do the images of war symbolise? What do the policeman, parking attendant and garage man