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:
"I was thinking," said Walter Mitty. "Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She
looked at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said.
- How does Mrs Mitty continue to treat Walter like a child? (4)
They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you
- Why are the revolving doors described as making a "derisive whistling"
He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking. . . . He put his shoulders back and his heels
together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his
cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing
squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.
- What leads to the fifth fantasy? (2)
- Explain the reference to the handkerchief. (4)
- What else conveys his casual attitude to his impending death? (4)
- What does the word "inscrutable" convey abut Walter's attitude? (4)
Explain why all Walter's fantasies are ironic. (4)