A Short Story and its Adopted Film: ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a short story written by James Thurber. The story revolves around the life of Walter Mitty, demonstrating how his life was different from that of others due to his nature of zoning out. The short story was adapted into a film in December 2013. The movie features Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty and depicts a vital contrast of attitude and love life. Upon comparison, the film and the short story exhibit significant similarities and differences in style, character traits of characters, plot development, demonstration of scenes and the number of characters. The paper will compare the adaptation of the short story ‘The Secret life of Walter Mitty to its adopted film version.

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The short story portrays that Walter Mitty has a pessimistic view of the world. Walter believes that the real world is a dangerous place to run away from. He experiences daydreams which bar him from being understood. Therefore, he opts to dream of situations far way where he is brave and bold. Walter encounters death romantically, through the imagination of facing his last moments without showing cowardice and instead expressing bravery in the face of danger. As Thurber notes in the final scene, ‘then, with that faint, fleeting smile about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the undefeated inscrutable to the last’ (Thurber). The scene illustrates Walter’s objective of day dreaming as his drive to ensure bravery and take control of his life.

On the contrary, the movie demonstrates Walter as an imaginative soul who is locked in a cubicle. The dreams of bravery in the short story illustrate his drive-in life, for instance, in the elevator where he dreams about encountering a bully by applying his wit (Thurber). Walter dreams of attempting to show a girl that he cares about his feelings for her. In all these dreams, Walter is trying to express feelings in the real world although he is stopped by his doubts. The dreams are an illustration of aspirations demonstrated in real life and not limited to his mind’s imagination.

The movie and the short story share the main character who is Walter Mitty. In the short story, the character of Walter Mitty has been underestimated greatly. He is demonstrated as someone who has a mental disorder, loses control of himself, and zones out (Thurber). The disorder created an impressive imagination where his left brain would function more. Similar to the movie Walter Mitty zones out when he met his crash in the story, he zones out on frequent occasions. The aspect of zoning out come up constantly in both the short story and the movie, which becomes a key character of Walter Mitty.

In the short story, the author views Walter’s dreams as symbolic and uses it to represent certain crucial aspects in the plot of the story. The application of symbolism in the movie has been limited by the aspect of how scenes are presented. In the reader’s mind, the image in the dreams of Walter can be easily understood in an individual context. Such an instance that illustrates symbolism is in Walter’s second-day dream where he pictures a ‘sexy nurse’ and is the hero who repairs the machine, makes it functional and saves a patient, the noise of the machine ‘pocketa-pockera-pockera’ (Thurber) represents intimidate and sexual connotations. In the movie, the scene does not come up clearly for the audience to understand actually what is going on in the scene.

The presentation of dreams in both the short and the movie enhance creativity in the presentations where the reader and the audience are critically engaged in the plot of the story. The dreams enable the reader and the audience to understand the secret life of Walter Mitty that could not be visible if the dreams were not present. The character’s historical background of Walter is portrayed in the dream which is a significant aspect when contextualizing themes and characters in the plot of both the short story and the film. The dreams also create a difference between Walter’s reality and fictional life.

It is crucial to note that both the story and the movie differ considerably. The differences are visible to the reader and the audience respectively. As the plot develops in the short story, there are some scenes where details are not clear and the audience cannot understand what Walter Mitty is doing. For instance, when Walter is zoning out, it’s not clear in the story what he is doing or what makes him behave this way (Thurber). On the contrary, the movie, makes it clear that every time Walter zones out he is deeply absorbed thinking about something. The movie provides a clear image of Walter’s thinking. In the short story, Walter is presented as a middle-aged, married man with a pet in the movie; Walter is in his twenties, single and does not have a pet. The scenes have been adjusted in the movie to incorporate aspects of modernity as compared in the short story (Thurber). The author in the short story, associates zoning out with anything real that Walter knows and engages in. However, in the movie, the zoning out is linked with Walter’s dream about his childhood adventures that occurred and transformed his life.

In the short story, it is easy for the reader to picture Walter’s fantasies as they read along. On the contrary, in the movie, it is difficult for Walter to express his fantasies to the audience. The audience in the movie can only see what is going on physically in Walters life and little is demonstrated in his dreams when he zones out. The inner feelings and fantasies are not displayed in the movie as they appear in the short story. For instance, in the story, Walter experiences five fantasies that mark a sense of sexual inferiority. It is difficult to display all the fantasies in the movie as they appear in the short story. The heroic postures shown by Walter in the film is not similar to the image that the reader gets when reading the book. The presentation of the scene in the movie portrays Walter as a normal human being with sexual desires and fantasies. The short story exaggerates Walters’s fantasies as potency to represent sexual inferiority and an attempt to achieve a sexual an orgasm.

In conclusion, the comparison in the adaptation of the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to a movie had significant differences and similarities. Both the short story and the movie present a character with similar characterizes in the short story and differing characteristics in the movie and vice versa. The moviemaker made vital efforts to match the story in the movie to that in the short story but the transition created significant differences. The reader and the audience of the short story and the movie respectively can track the transformations that were adopted in the film to enhance creativity and present a film that is relevant to the modern world. However, the adaptation of the short story into the movie was successful as it presented the desired context and the various aspect of the life of the main character.


Work Cited

Thurber, James. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. , 2008. Print.

Stiller, Ben. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Twentieth Century Fox, 2013.