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 has five adventures:
- as a commander of a US plane, bravely guiding the plane through a storm;
- as a world-renowned surgeon who fixes an important piece of machinery in the operating theatre with
a fountain pen, thereby saving the life of a millionaire banker and friend to President Roosevelt;
- as an excellent shot who is accused of murder in a dramatic courtroom scene;
- as a debonair, brandy-drinking, devil-may-care pilot who will fly the bomber plane on his own since the
other men are afraid;
- as a smiling man bravely facing the firing-squad without a blindfold.
Can you explain this vocabulary as used in the story?
"WE'RE going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress
uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. "We can't make
it, sir. It's spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me." "I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Berg," said the
Commander. "Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8500! We're going through!" The pounding of
the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the
ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. "Switch on No.
8 auxiliary!" he shouted. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" repeated Lieutenant Berg. "Full strength in No. 3
turret!" shouted the Commander. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" The crew, bending to their various tasks
in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. "The Old Man'll
get us through," they said to one another. "The Old Man ain't afraid of hell!" . . .
- What image does the reader get of the commander and how is this image
- Identify and comment on the use of onomatopoeia in this paragraph and elsewhere in the
- How does the author create tension in this adventure? (4)
Each adventure ends with ellipsis.
- What is elipsis and why has the author used it? (2)
What compliment do the men give their commander at the end of the fantasy? (4)
"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast for?"
"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She
seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. "You were up to
fifty-five," she said. "You know I don't like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five." Walter Mitty
drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years
of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind. "You're tensed up again," said Mrs. Mitty.
"It's one of your days. I wish you'd let Dr. Renshaw look you over."
- What is the link between the fantasy and his return to reality? (2)
- How do we know that Mitty takes a while to get back to reality? (4)
Mitty's wife says: "It's one of your days."
- What is the implication of this statement? (4)