Study Guide

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

By James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Introduction

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.)

What is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty About and Why Should I Care?

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."

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Resources

Movie or TV Productions

Upcoming 2010 Movie
Starring Mike Meyers

1947 Movie
With significant changes from the text

Videos

From the 1947 film
The opening ten minutes

Collection of Quotes
Cute, funny.

Audios

Great Collection of Thurber stories read aloud
Good stuff here.

Images

James Thurber
Just how we imagined Mitty might look…

A Typical Thurber Cartoon
Hardy-har-har.

Waterbury, CT
About ten years after Mitty's visit

Documents

The Full Text of "Walter Mitty"
Free….just the way we like our literature.

Walter Mitty meets weapons of mass destruction
Lit. references in modern politics

Other

Times Topic: James Thurber
Everything The New York Times has to offer on Thurber

Everything Thurber
Biography, Links, and Quotes from the cartoonist/writer