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James Thurber, a journalist and writer, lived between the period of 1894 and1961 (Thurber 3-5). One of his most famous stories, “The Secret Life of Mitty” was published in 1939 in the New Yorker magazine. It was later printed in his collection in 1942, where his other works had also been published. In 1947, a movie was made from this story, though different from the story in many ways. This specific story brought Thurber a lot of fame, making it possible for him to reach millions of people all over the world. The name Mitty is derived from the word mystique. The word is used to describe an individual who is prone to wasting much of his/her time in fantasy. More so, the individual is not ready to engage in anything productive, but rather think of him/herself to be who he or she is not.
The story is humorous, as most of his other works are (Ramachandran and Blakeslee 85-87). The main character of the story is a man, middle aged, who is tired of the urban life and is working towards his escape. He, therefore, runs into a world of fantasy so as to change the once boring lifestyle that he led. This character, Walter Mitty, is once in a while referred to by people to describe a day dreamer and a weird person in the society.
The story starts with an airplane in a scene of a ranging storm (Thurber 5-8). Obviously, the people aboard, an army crew, are exposed to danger. Nevertheless, the military officer in charge commands the officers to proceed with the journey. The officers are afraid of the storm, but they are reassured to proceed on by the confident military officer. The scene then changes to the scenario where Mitty is driving on one of the ordinary highways together with his wife. Apparently, the whole story about a military officer and his crew members happens to be one of Mitty’s fantasies. The wife is able to sense the tension in the husband as he is caught up in his own fantasies. She is, therefore, quick to remind him of buying several things, maybe to try and solve the problem he could be facing. She also does this to bring the man back into reality.
The wife then goes into a salon, and Mitty drives off to the parking area (Thurber 1-10). Here, he is caught up in another fantasy. He thinks of himself as a very prominent doctor, who has to operate on a renowned banker. The banker is also a friend to the president of United States of America. He puts on gloves so as to operate on the banker. He drives past a hospital to perform the surgery. The daydream ends with rude interruption by the parking lot attendant. He is reminded that he has parked his car in the wrong lane.
The third fantasy happens just as he is trying to remember what he had been asked to buy by his wife (Thurber 1-10). Suddenly, he envisions himself in a courtroom, testifying in a court room. He is accused of murder, but he has to defend himself of the accusations with confidence. As this happens, a lovely woman embraces him amidst of the proceedings. In the fourth time of daydreaming, Mitty is waiting for his wife to join him as he reads an article questioning whether Germany can conquer the world through the air force. Suddenly, he sees himself in the air force defending the country. He fantasizes volunteering in the Royal Air Force, and that he pilots an airplane that normally would be piloted by two people. Finally, the man fantasies draw him into a world where he is in a firing squad. This experience happens just as he is smoking against a wall.
In general, three themes are drawn from the story (Cummings 1). One is that of the obvious escapism by Mitty. The second theme is that of boosting his ego, amidst of scorn from the world and domineering wife. The third theme is love of adventure and heroism. There is a big contrast between the Mitty in the real world and the fantasy Mitty (Manchester et al. 10-15). The stories depict a man who is bored by the life that he leads. The normal chores include taking the wife to the salon and the same old routine of buying this and that as requested of the wife. The routines seem rather too obvious for Mitty. He, therefore, chooses to create his own way of escape, though secretly. Only Mitty knows that he is living in his own world, apart from everything and everybody else. He, thus, comes out as an escapist.
The character of Mitty comes out as that of a forgetful and careless man (Thurber 5-7). He has to be reminded of what to buy and somehow forgets it all amidst of his fantasies. While driving, his careless behavior comes out clearly as well. He fails to concentrate on what may cause fatal consequences to both the wife and him. He also parks the car in the wrong area, and ends up causing attention and anger from the attendant. He also harbors anger and resentment within him, traits that only come through fantasy.
The secret life is wild; it is not limited to any given scenario (Thurber 5-7). Rather, it ventures into most dangerous areas that Mitty would not dare go into in the normal life. Still, the social interactions within Mitty’s life are not pleasant. In every fantasy, someone interrupts; someone to remind him to sink back into the real life, while others laugh and scorn. At the beginning of the story, the wife reminds him to buy several things. This is meant to remind him of the normal boring life that he is desperately trying to escape from. Others, like the policemen and the parking lot attendant, yell at him in the story. This only interrupts his calmness and boldness in his fantasy world. None of the instances bring him out as a winner due to the interruptions, most of which remind him how feeble he is.
The writer uses a lot of word play to bring out humor in his piece (Cummings 1). Use of words such as ‘pocketa- pocketa’ repeatedly makes the reader capture a sense of humor in the story. This among other reasons is what makes the piece easy to read and follow. The success of the publication is also owed to this kind of humor. Thurber also uses description of items to give them more relevance than they have. He describes normal life, such as buying puppy’s biscuits, as ordered by the wife, with humor.
It has been speculated that the story is based on the writer himself, James Thurber (Thurber 1-10). Most of his other works were dominated by women, and his wife played a big role in his career. For example, “The Unicorn in the Garden” is mainly dominated by a woman. The man in the story comes out as feeble and unwilling to impose himself. Therefore, due to the collection of such stories, he may have been speaking of his own life and his bid to escape from the reality. Further, one of the critics suggests that he may have suffered a certain syndrome that would cause him to hallucinate often (Ramachandran and Blakeslee 85-87). This may be what inspired him while writing the story.
The movies that have been written based on this story are inspired to speak about day dreamers who may never achieve their dreams (Manchester et al. 10-15). The role of the woman also comes out as one who tends to be overprotective and manipulating. Most importantly, the humorous outlay of the story is also maintained. The movies make various changes to fill in the gap that was left in the story. For example, some will complete the story and add the part where the man actually receives the fame that he so much desires. Somehow, he does not know what to do with it because he is not used to such kind of life. Nevertheless, they are able to capture all parts of the story, despite some modifications that are made to the story to give more attention to some specific aspects.
There are several lessons that could be learnt from the story (Cummings 1). One among them is that people must fight for their dreams while they may. Failure to do this would give them no other option in future than to sink into the world of fantasy. The main character is forced to escape into a world of fantasy from the boring life of the city (Manchester et al. 10-15). People’s failure to realize their dreams while they are young may lead to escapism in future. It also reminds the reader that the secret life that people lead may sometimes be weird and unconstructive. It is, therefore, a reminder to every individual about the necessity to engage into productive thinking and progress even in their secret life.
The story by James Thurber is undoubtedly a master piece. The ideas are so perfectly outlaid that one would want to continue reading the story and would read it more than one time. The success of the story was worth it. The author brings out humor of the everyday life and other aspects in the way that many others would not dare to. The story has, therefore, received a lot of attention from the media and the educational circles.