Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty

Infobox character
colour = #DEDEE2
name = Walter Mitty

caption = Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty
first = "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
"The New Yorker",
March 18, 1939
last =
cause =
nickname = "The Old Man" (in one fantasy)
alias =
species =
gender =
age =
born =
death =
occupation = unknown; various fantasy occupations
title = Commander, Doctor (in fantasies)
family =
spouse = unnamed except as "Mrs. Mitty"
children =
relatives =
episode =
portrayer = Danny Kaye
creator = James Thurber

Walter Mitty is a fictional character in James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", first published in "The New Yorker" on March 18, 1939, and in book form in "My World— and Welcome to It" in 1942. It was made into a film in 1947.

Mitty is a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer. The character's name has come into more general use to refer to an ineffectual dreamer, appearing in several dictionaries. [cite web| url =| title =Walter Mitty| work| accessdate =2006-06-15] The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs." [walter mitty. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved May 29, 2007, from website:] The most famous of Thurber's inept male protagonists, the character is considered "the archetype for dreamy, hapless, Thurber Man".cite web
last = King
first = Steve
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = "Thurber: Mitty and Dangerous."
work = Today in Literature
publisher =
date =
url =
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doi =
accessdate = 2008-07-14

Although the story has humorous elements, some critics see a darker and more significant message underlying the text, leading to a more tragic interpretation of the Mitty character. Even in his heroic daydreams, Mitty does not triumph, several fantasies being interrupted before the final one sees Mitty dying bravely in front of a firing squad. In addition, it is possible to read the events in the story as the responses to the stress of reality by an aging man who is sliding into senescence. In the brief snatches of reality that punctuate Mitty's fantasies we meet well-meaning but insensitive strangers who inadvertently rob Mitty of some of his remaining dignity.

His wife is the only inhabitant of reality that we meet more than once.

Use of the term as an insult

In 1977, Andrew Roth titled his biography of British prime minister Harold Wilson "Sir Harold Wilson: the Yorkshire Walter Mitty". Wilson successfully sued Roth for libel arising out of a section of the book referring to Wilson's wife.

In his 1992 biography of Henry Kissinger, Walter Isaacson records that on 6 October 1973, during the 1973 Arab Israeli War, Kissinger urged President Richard Nixon's Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig to keep Nixon in Florida in order to avoid "any hysterical moves" and to "keep any Walter Mitty tendencies under control." [ [ "The October War and U.S. Policy"] , October 7, 2003 "National Security Archives"]

In 2003, Tom Kelly, a spokesman for British prime minister Tony Blair, publicly apologised for referring to David Kelly as "a Walter Mitty character" during a private discussion with a journalist.

In 2007, Automaker Ford admitted that it had to exclude from the list of potential bidders "Walter Mitty" types who had dreams but no experience, prior to the sale of their Aston Martin British GT car brand to a consortium of business interests from America and the Middle East, headed by Prodrive founder and world rally championship owner David Richards.

Later in 2007, Conservative British MP Sir Peter Tapsell backhandedly complimented outgoing Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair for portraying "…despite the deep disillusionment of his fellow countrymen with his premiership, an optimism that eluded King James II and would have delighted Walter Mitty." [ [ Prime Minister's Questions for 9 May 2007] ]

In 2008, Jim McAuley, a soldier who boasted on Facebook that he had served with the SAS and killed more than 100 people, was termed a "Walter Mitty" by genuine soldiers who exposed him as a fantasist, forcing his resignation from the army. [ [ "'Walter Mitty' soldier's Facebook bragging exposed"] , "The Guardian", July 9, 2008.]

In his book on selection for the Special Air Service, Andy McNab wrote that people who give away the fact that they want to be in the SAS for reasons of personal vanity are labeled as 'Walter Mittys' and quietly sent home.

Also, there is a term in military slang, "Walt", which is an abbreviation of Walter Mitty, which refers to someone who has aspirations to become a soldier, but none of the necessary personal qualities. This bit of slang can also refer to someone who poses as an (ex-) soldier but who isn't a soldier (serving or former) or who poses as something he isn't or wasn't. (e.g. a logistics soldier who poses as an SAS trooper, or poses as a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen) just like DeltaWhiskey58. Additional derogatory military slang is the "Weekend Walt" which refers to members of the Territorial Army.Fact|date=September 2008

References in popular culture

The character was played by Danny Kaye in the 1947 film version, and is scheduled to be played by Mike Myers in a future film version. Thurber opposed the 1947 production. Kaye's Mitty is a more comedic character than the original, who is unmarried, gets drawn into a farcical adventure in real life, and triumphs in ways that the original character does not, even in his fantasies.

Walter Mitty is referenced in the lyrics to the songs "T&P Combo" by 311, "Vacation" by Alabama, "Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" by Ian Dury, "Kitty Ricketts" by Radiator, "In The City" by Madness, "Dreams" by The Descendents, "All Dressed Up For San Francisco" by The Philosopher Kings, and "Sammy Davis City" by Joe Strummer and Brian Setzer. Mark Lindsay referred to "Walter Mitty mind" in his song "Silver Bird." Although the character is not specifically referenced within its lyrics, the concept album "Eldorado" by Electric Light Orchestra focuses on the exploits of a Walter Mitty-style persona.

Stephen King in his novel, The Stand describes the character of Paul Burlson as a "Walter Mitty outlaw daydream" when Paul tucks a revolver into the waistband of his dress pants.

The official Peanuts website describes the character of Snoopy, as " extroverted Beagle with a Walter Mitty complex."


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Walter Mitty — Walter Mittyish. pl. Walter Mittys. an ordinary, timid person who is given to adventurous and self aggrandizing daydreams or secret plans as a way of glamorizing a humdrum life. [from the title character of James Thurber s short story The Secret… …   Universalium

  • Walter Mitty — →↑Mitty, WalteR …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • walter mitty — A Walter Mitty character is an unexceptional person who is prone to daydreaming of personal triumphs …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • Walter Mitty — ☆ Walter Mitty [mit′ē ] n. [< “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a short story by THURBER James (Grover)] an ordinary, unassuming person who dreams of being heroic, successful, etc …   English World dictionary

  • Walter Mitty — UK [ˌwɔːltə(r) ˈmɪtɪ] / US [ˌwɔltər ˈmɪtɪ] noun [countable] Word forms Walter Mitty : singular Walter Mitty plural Walter Mitties someone who imagines that unusual or exciting things happen to them, but whose life is in fact very ordinary •… …   English dictionary

  • Walter Mitty — noun Etymology: Walter Mitty, daydreaming hero of a story by James Thurber Date: 1949 a commonplace unadventurous person who seeks escape from reality through daydreaming • Walter Mittyish adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Walter Mitty — Wal′ter Mit′ty [[t]ˈwɔl tər[/t]] n. pl. Walter Mit•tys cvb an ordinary, timid person who is given to adventurous and self aggrandizing daydreams • Etymology: from the title character of James Thurber s short story “The Secret Life of Walter… …   From formal English to slang

  • walter mitty — n. Walter Mitty, fictional character in a story by James Thurber who daydreams about his adventures and triumphs; ordinary person who fantasizes that he is an extraordinary or heroic person …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Walter Mitty — noun a person who fantasizes about a life much more exciting and glamorous than their own. Origin the fantasizing hero of James Thurber s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1939) …   English new terms dictionary

  • Walter Mitty — noun a sad or pathetic person given to flights of fancy, a daydreamer …   Wiktionary

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