James Thurber is most famous as a cartoonist and writer for The New Yorker in the 1930s and 40s. He published "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" in The New Yorker in March of 1939. It tells the story of an aging man who, though inept and bumbling in real life, passes his day with a series of fantasies in which he takes on the role of any number of powerful, bold, decisive men. The story has become an American classic, and Mitty a famous literary character. The word "Mittyesque" can even be found in The American Heritage Dictionary. (It refers to someone who is an absent-minded dreamer.)
Who hasn't gotten through a boring day by imagining they were somewhere else, someone else, doing something different? Whether you pretend you're decoding spy codes when finishing your calculus homework, or that you're a dangerous Mafioso when your mother makes you take out the garbage, or that you're an FBI agent gathering intel when you're waiting at line at the supermarket, you probably know what we're talking about. The imagination is something we all use – possibly something we all need – to make our lives more interesting.
Some view "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" as the endearing story of a loveable man whose rather humorous, dramatic fantasies are harmlessly employed to get him through a dull day of errands. Others see darker themes at work here. Perhaps the story's message is that a dreamer can't survive in this world; or maybe that dreams are insufficient to compensate for what bothers us in reality. Any way you cut it, there are tough questions and hilarity to be found in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."