By Ahmed Latif
As an avid reader of The New Yorker it is no wonder that I am also a fan of James Thurber. His wit is always relevant regardless of the era. He writes to satirize human nature. His 1939 short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, is a thesis on the imagination and the functional instigation of boredom brought on by the modern urban lifestyle. The mundane life of the titular Walter Mitty is emancipated by the very human realm of the daydream. Mitty is aloof and silent; but he is also driven mad by the crushing blandness of his life. He finds salvation through imagining his destruction in incredible adventures. These wild adventures do not add spice to his stubborn life, but they are the in fact the only spice of his life.
As he goes from errand to errand with his wife he fantasizes about new adventures. The imagination is a form of railing against these concrete zoos that confine us today. Modern cities with their dense skyscraper jungles and addiction to the automobile have amplified our innate need to escape. For Mitty that need manifested itself as small episodes of catatonic insanity in the form of daydreams where he becomes heroic, valiant, and exciting. Mitty imagines impossible situations in which he must face his mortality. He relates to the world around him through his fantasies, incorporating phrases and events from around him. As Walter Mitty carries on with his ordinary life, his daydreams rail against the personal and physical constrictions that form his surroundings. Thurber demonstrates that the mundane and unexceptional can lead us to magical places in our imaginations. The world we see is unjust and therefore justice starts in our imaginations, our dreams, and our hopes.
Thurber’s sharp writing allows the contrast between a colourful imagination and uniform existence to strike a reawakening into our hearts. The character need not to actually experience pain to know it existence and consequently he does not need to physically escape to gain a glimpse of the freedom he yearns. The need to envision an escape from the confines of our worlds and our personal shortcomings is being readapted for a new generation. The scenic modern urban world is still one that confines us, confuses us, and confides in us.