Comparing the characters of Walter Mitty and Billy Liar

As both the authors, James Thurber and Keith Waterhouse, have started their stories with the daydreams of the characters Walter Mitty and Billy Fisher; their aim is to point out the fact that daydreaming is a natural occurrence in human life. Also they are displaying the significant role of daydreaming in these stories. In Walter Mitty the story begins as follows: “We’re going through; the commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking”. In Billy Liar, the story begins as follows: ‘’ It was true that we entered the war late, and some criticised us for that.’’. From these quotes I can understand that Walter Mitty is a commander in the beginning of the story in his daydream. Similarly Billy Fisher is a leader of the war that has recently ended in a non-existing land called ‘Ambrosia’. As soon as the story begins with these daydreams, we could see that the author wants the readers to believe both characters have a habit of daydreaming and they do this on a regular basis.

In both of the stories, the writers leap directly into the scenario of the daydream, therefore the readers are likely to assume Walter Mitty and Billy Fisher are literally living these situations. However, as the readers reach the sections where the characters are both hurled back into reality, they conceive the fact that the characters were only in their fantasy worlds. “’Not so fast! You are driving too fast!’ said Mrs. Mitty.” This quote indicates that Mitty is hurled back into the real world with the calling of his wife, who is warning him to slow the speed of the car which Mitty imagines to be a hydroplane in war.

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The readers could derive that Mitty’s daydreams occur unintentionally as he has no control over them. Mitty driving a car, imports his mind into imagining that he is flying a hydroplane; accordingly we could say that his daydreams are related to the action he is carrying out in reality. Whereas, from this quote: “I put an end to all this, consciously and deliberately.” I can deduce that Billy Fisher is coming out of the fantasy world with his own will, as he allowed himself to daydream about Ambrosia while he was avoiding getting up and going to work.

The writers want the readers to notice that daydreams have a significant role in both the characters’ worlds, as they mean power and offer an escape for them from their reality. In both the characters we can see that they desire to be leaders and heroes; traits that they lack in real life. “Full strength in No.3 turret!” from this quote the readers could determine the fact that Walter Mitty is a commander and he is giving orders, being a leader in the fantasy world. Also the exclamation mark that has been used, indicates the loudness and fierceness of the environment that Mitty is a commander in, in his daydream. “We limped along as we had arrived from the battlefield.” Here I can infer that Billy Fisher sees himself as a hero which has successfully survived the battle he took place in, in the daydream.

Keith Waterhouse presents Billy Fisher as an irresponsible and immature teenager. Billy continuously refuses to take charge in certain occasions in life. It could be seen from this quote: “Without much effort, I drifted into Ambrosia”, that Billy’s daydreams happen intentionally unlike Walter Mitty’s daydreams where he has no control over them. I can derive that Ambrosia is invented purposely by Billy, in order for him to escape from his responsibilities and duties in his daily life. He was expected to post calendars from work, whereas he takes advantage of this and spends the money for the postage on himself. This reveals that he is a selfish and greedy person who carries out tactless actions, he never considers others and the consequences of what he does. The readers are suggested that daydreaming is a way out for Billy; however, the audience is later made aware of the fact that Billy Fisher has to face the consequences of his recklessness no matter what, but he usually lies to get away with it. His negative features, such as disrespect and arrogance, are more obvious in this quote: “I would dearly have loved to shout at gran in the same situation”. Also this quote indicates how discourteous he is, especially towards his own family members.

James Thurber portrays Walter Mitty as the submissive character in his relationship with his wife. This could be seen from this quote:” She would want him to be there waiting for him as usual”, as Mitty is continuously being ordered to do things by his wife and he has no choice but to accept. Since the dominant character being Mrs. Mitty, Walter Mitty is sick and tired of the repetitiveness of these demands hence ends up fantasising of a world where he is the one who commands others to do things. The audience is suggested that daydreaming is an escape for Walter Mitty, even though it is done unconsciously. It provides him the opportunity to pass his tedious time entertainingly, while he waits for his wife to arrive from the hairdresser’s.

Walter Mitty’s daydreams are sparked by certain occurrences that he comes across on his visit to the town. “Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and ruined streets”, right after this takes place Walter Mitty finds himself in a daydream where he is a general in World War 2. The quote reveals how Mitty predicts his role in a situation such as war. However, instead of him being reclusive and timid, he is well-skilled and heroic. This is proof to the readers that Walter Mitty is indeed not fond of his personality; thus he is desiring to be someone fearless, extroversive and decisive.

Walter Mitty has in fact an invert personality that leads the people around him to neglect his opinions, though he has very few that he expresses. “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?”, I could infer from this quote that Mitty reveals what goes through his mind to his wife. Whereas his wife just replies “I am going to take your temperature when I get home”. The readers get the idea that Mrs. Mitty ignores his husband in way that she ignores a child along with treating him like one. This could be seen as Mrs. Mitty gives the impression of Walter Mitty not being able to take care of himself. It could be also seen that Walter Mitty relies on his wife as he feels insecure and uncomfortable at times, such as when he forgets what he was supposed to purchase: “Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other things his wife had told him to get”, from this quote it could be revealed that Mitty is not always capable of certain abilities, therefore he tends to submit himself to his wife who will take control of the situation.

‘Billy liar’ tends to be an unrestrained and extroversive character, which leads him to act immature t times. Usually due to his irresponsible manner he gets blamed at by others such as his boss, parents and girlfriends. “Turn on him the Ambrosian repeater gun”, this quote indicates how Billy Fisher has no weapon to use against the complaints made by people that know him; therefore, he uses his imagination to defend himself with a machine gun. This gives the audience the impression that Billy Fisher is a cocky and reckless teenager that is also weak and hides behind lies that he comes up with in order to defend himself.

During the daydream where Walter Mitty faces the firing squad while smoking a cigarette, he is “erect and motionless, proud and disdainful”, it indicates how dauntless and courageous he is as he is being shot. Also the adjectives being used are linked to the traits that he lacks as a male, they also indicate that he has no fear in being shot, he is determined even in an extremely dangerous situation as such. He is well sure that he would be respected for dying for the sake of saving other people’s lives. However the audience is aware that Mitty is a reserved and passive individual, he is very likely to be forgotten by people once he dies in that same spot from any other reason.

When comparing the two shooting scenes in the daydreams, it could be said that they are quite different from each other. This is because Walter Mitty is the one who is sacrificing himself for his nation, which makes the readers feel sorry for him. On the other hand, Billy Fisher is the one using the repeater gun and shooting people who he dislikes. From this, the readers can see the immature behaviour being carried out. Although the roles differentiate the two scenes, the similarity is that they both achieve what they want. Walter Mitty desires respect and honour; whereas, Billy Fisher wants to rid himself from the constant complaints and blames he gets from the people.

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