In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Mitty escapes the reality of his manhood with daydreaming. He does this because his wife emasculates him. For Mitty, daydreams are better than dealing with a bothersome wife. Mitty is a real man in his mind as he fantasizes about saving the Navy hydroplane. Mitty is not happy and he argues with his wife over such things as overshoes. He is no doubt a curmudgeon, as we see when he calls the parking lot attendant "damn cocky" (Thurber 1361). Mitty is unlucky in life but we have to wonder how much of this is his fault. Many would look at him and see nothing that resembles a real man. His imagination is his escape, which makes Mitty happy, as he declares himself "undefeated" and "inscrutable" (1364). Mitty might know how to escape his awful world but he is taking a chicken's way out. We can look upon him as the weakest of men because he does not have enough backbone to do certain things to improve his life. In many ways, this kind of man is looked down upon by many generations through many eras. Being a man needs to include a certain amount of respect for oneself and Mitty lacks this respect. He appears to give up on his chance at a happy life. Mitty might be content within his dream world but this does nothing for the name of manhood across the world. Similarly, Morton is a weak character. He, too, allows his wife to emasculate him in a way that will only lead to misery. Morton is a small man and he wears glasses; we associate this kind of image with a wimp and Morton does nothing to eliminate this kind of thinking. Mitty escapes into his daydreams while Morton allows himself to be put down. He cannot face the bully on the beach nor can he stand up to his wife. He is bookish and would not handle life in the real world. He escapes, too, but he is running away from confrontation when he tells his wife, "Come on, let's get out of here" (Kaufman 839). His wife faces disappointment in her husband because he does not do the manly thing and stand up to the bully. She sees him as weak and realizes she can treat him the same way and he will do nothing about it. She said that she wants Larry to "learn to fight his own battles" (838) but her husband is teaching him to do the opposite as they walk away from the sandbox. Joe's father ignores discipline and...
Published 40 years apart, these stories illustrate a contemporary conception of weak men in the modern world. Real men do no allow themselves to be pushed around -- especially by their wives. This notion is one that has not changed much over the years but the concept of being a man has experienced radical assaults in those f40 years. Since the publication of Walter Mitty, America witnessed the emergence of the feminist movement, which only caused confusion in regard to what it means to be a man in a woman's world. It is safe to assume that both of the wives in these stories would have been drawn to the feminist agenda because of their need to control. However, as much as they want to be in control, nothing is more unattractive than a wimpy man or a man that will not fight. These weak men will only continue to lose respect from their wives because they can never stand up to them.
Becoming a man is difficult and being a man is full of complexities. These stories demonstrate the complicated nature of what it means to be a man because everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what it means. From owning a gun to having a decent amount of self-respect, the world id filled with all kinds of men who represent different aspects of the nebulous notion of manhood. Time and progression only seem to complicate matters. As the world becomes more advanced in many ways, definitions of manhood change. Real men protect their families, they fight for what is right, and they love their wives. The idea, at first glance, seems easy to define but as we have learned, it is not. Men face certain difficulties when dealing with the ever-present ideas of what the world thinks of men and their own concept of what it means to be a man.
Thurber, James. (1981) "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." The Norton Anthology of Short
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Joyce, James. "Araby." The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Cassill, R.V., ed. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company. 1981. Print.
Kaufman, Bel. "Sunday in the Park." Pickering 838-840.
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