“May Day! May Day! We’re going down!” Right before impact you are awaken suddenly by a tapping on your shoulder by your teacher and a class full of laughing peers. It happens to everyone at one point or another. Every high school student has been succumbed to a wild daydreaming adventure. In the short story, “The secret life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber, a man by the name of Walter Mitty can hardly tell reality from his vivid imaginary dreams which undertake him spontaneously as he feuds with his nagging wife. In a very similar short story, “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving, the main character Rip Van Winkle slips away from his domestic problems with his wife to a place of serenity where he can sleep in the peace and quiet of the Catskill Mountains. These two stories possess many striking similarities yet there are many differences between them which make them unique.
Similarities run wild between these two stories. The most noticeable trait in which both stories possess heavily is the portrayal of the wife. In “Rip Van Winkle”, Rip’s wife is a nagging, mean old hag who gets her kicks out of bossing him around and taking him away from his fun with the neighborhood children and his dog. An extremely strong connection can be made from the wife of Rip to the wife of Walter Mitty. Mitty’s wife is obviously a control freq who always has to have things her way, and if things fail to lean in her favor then all havoc breaks loose. “Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for? (Thurber 2)” Another large similarity between Walter and Rip are their overwhelming tendencies to avoid any form of laborous activity pertaining to their own benefit by choosing to do something a little more exciting and fun. In Rip’s case, he simply leaves his wife and his house with his dog, Wolf, to escape all of the responsibilities his wife imposes on him to be in the peace of the forest where he can relax for awhile.
“Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. (Irving 4)” Walter Mitty is sidetracked every time he is told to do something by falling into a new daydream. His wife often has to tell him to do a particular activity multiple times before Mitty makes a formidable attempt at completing it. “When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box under his arm, Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him to get. She had told him, twice before they set out from their house for Waterbury. (Thurber 5)” These two characters go hand-in-hand with one another, yet there are still significant details about each one which make them unique.
Although very similar, these stories possess many distinct differences which separate them from one another. The first and foremost is the time in which each takes place. “Rip Van Winkle” is set in the colonial days from pre-Revolution to post-Revolution while “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is set in the roaring ’20s of the 20th century. The main characters also have their own unique attributes as well which helps to distinguish them from each other. Walter Mitty is more of a dreamer and oddball, and uses his dreams to escape from his troubles and worries of the day. Rip Van Winkle is more of a playful, joyous person who just outright despises his home. He works extremely hard for other people and is always there to help others out yet he refuses to make any tangible efforts to get things done around the house.
“In a word Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible. (Irving 3)” Obviously another significant detail which separates these stories is how Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 20 years and sleeps through the Revolution, waking up only to find that everything he had once known is gone for the most part. He awakes to learn that his wife has died and this actually made him happy. Walter Mitty does not despise his wife in the same way. Mainly, Walter Mitty is just slightly annoyed by her antics and her need for control. This detail probably poses the biggest separation between plots of the two stories. Differences are noticeably large and significant when comparing these short tales.
Though very similar indeed, these two stories are in fact very different from one another. The main characters of the two run parallel in description and action yet the plots seem to stray away from one another. “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” are two very unique and priceless pieces of American literature.
Courtney from Study Moose
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