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:
"Back it up, Mac!! Look out for that Buick!" Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes. "Wrong lane, Mac,"
said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. "Gee. Yeh," muttered Mitty. He began cautiously
to back out of the lane marked "Exit Only." "Leave her sit there," said the attendant. "I'll put her away."
Mitty got out of the car. "Hey, better leave the key." "Oh," said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The
attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.
- Why does Walter regard the parking attendant as "cocky"? (4)
- The parking attendant makes him think of another situation with the car when his ability was laughed
at. What was the incident? (4)
- What sets off this third fantasy? (4)
Walter Mitty raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. "With any known make of
gun," he said evenly, "I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with my left hand."
Pandemonium broke loose in the courtroom. A woman's scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly
a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty's arms. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without
rising from his chair, Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin.
- What is Walter's attitude during the trial? (4)
- Quote the words which convey the chaos which broke out in the courtroom. (4)
- What emphasises the romanticised aspect of Walter's fantasy? (4)
What ends the fantasy? (4)