Mental Illnnesses Portrayed in Two Different Stories

Comparison of mental illnesses between James Thurber’s novel, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin.

Essay discusses two forms of mental illnesses portrayed in two different characters. The first character Walter Mitty is from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber and the second is James Baldwin in an autobiographical essay called Notes of a Native Son. Both Mitty and Baldwin have endured abuse and from their abuse stemmed their illnesses. The paper shows however, that while Mitty is seemingly unaware of his affliction, Baldwin is conscious of the illness, which was exemplified in his father. The ways in which their ignorance and self-awareness of their illnesses changes their outlooks and affects them are explored.
Walter Mitty appears to the reader as a timid, almost broken man under the constant criticism and flow of abuse of his wife. Because of the constant harassment, Mitty creates strong daydreams to escape into; daydreams that are triggered by words spoken from the external environment that filtered into his mind and broken each time by events from the external environment as well. These daydreams are introduced to the reader from the very beginning such as when Mitty imagines himself to be a daring Commander who takes his Navy crew through a hurricane. The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. The Old Man’ll get us through, they said to one another. The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell! (Thurber 72-73). From this we can see Mitty’s need for reassurance that he is needed and wanted. The way that the “Old Man” is capitalized shows deference from the crew, which is probably how Mitty wants, to be respected.”