James Thurber is one of America's best known humorists, and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is his best known story. The story was first published in 1939 in the New Yorker magazine to great acclaim. It was reprinted in Thurber's 1942 collection, My World—And Welcome To It and in Reader's Digest in 1943. The story's main character is a middle-aged, middle-class man who escapes from the routine drudgery of his suburban life into fantasies of heroic conquest. Upon the story's publication, Walter Mitty became an archetypal American figure. Today, people still describe a certain kind of neurotic, daydreaming man as a "Walter Mitty type.'' In 1947, Hollywood released a movie of the same title, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.
Although his humorous stories, sketches, and illustrations were well-known during his lifetime, Thurber has received little scholarly attention. Some critics dismissed his work as little more than formulaic and whimsical. More recently, critics have become attentive to Thurber's literary prowess, such as his use of wordplay and attention to narrative form. They have also discussed the darker themes of his work which lurk underneath the hilarity. Others, referring to his tendency to portray domineering women, like Mrs. Mitty, and unhappy, ineffectual men, like Walter, fault his treatment of women and views of marriage.