James Thurber in 1954
James Thurber in 1954

Title: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Author: James Thurber

Category: Short Story

First published: March 18, 1939 in The New Yorker

Rating: 4½ out of 5 stars

Add: Goodreads

Purchase: Audible | Amazon

Walter Mitty, a mild-mannered forty-year-old man, drives into Connecticut with his wife for their weekly shopping trip and his wife’s appointment with the hairdresser. Tired of his drab, schedule-driven life, Walter escapes into five elaborate daydreams, and finally becomes the hero he always hoped to be.

I don’t know why that blurb says Mitty becomes the hero. I don’t think he ever really did, outside of his daydreams. Each of his daydreams is prompted by something in his environment. First, he’s as a pilot flying in a storm, prompted by his fast driving, then he’s a surgeon performing a one-of-a-kind surgery as he drives by a hospital. Next, he’s an assassin testifying in a courtroom, and then a RAF pilot volunteering for a daring, secret suicide mission to bomb an ammunition dump. As the story ends, Mitty imagines himself facing a firing squad, “inscrutable to the last,” while in real life he’s leaning against a wall smoking.

I read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” because we recently watched Ben Stiller’s movie, which really has little to do with the story, other than the daydreaming. I enjoyed the story, though it is very short. I did like the ratio between daydreams and real life and how real life leads to the daydreams. It also was clear why Mitty felt the need to imagine a more adventurous, brave life. He seems so bland, bored with life, and dominated by his wife, who can blame him for escaping reality.

I don’t know what makes a classic a classic, but I’m sure that most people can see pieces of themselves or someone they know in Mitty. And the story is memorable.

Take a couple of minutes and read it. Or listen to it – Audible.com has it for free right now, narrated by Ben Stiller.


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