Literature tells us about human lives. However, there is a strong connection between different literary works even though they might exhibit diverse qualities. Some of the basic cannons of literature include attributes such as speech, language, grammar, similes, as well as figurative language (Lean, 1968). Even as literary works follow common conventional rules, writers and poets have the capability to use the rules to create pieces of work that resonate so well with the human life. Clugton once said that “when one allows reading to unlock the imagination, the connection sets stage for intellectual engagement” (Clugton 2010: pP.a). Imagination in poetry is important in enabling the reader has an almost unrealizable feeling ordinarily. Imagination is a powerful theme in the pomes such as “I am going” by Tristan Bernard, “The Secret of Life of Walter Mitty” done by James Thurber and “a Subaltern’s Love Song” a poem done by John Betjeman. In this essay, we focus on comparing the two poems “a subaltern’s love song by John Betjeman and James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one of James Thurber’s most recognizable story of all time. The story first got published in 1939 and has been instrumental in putting James Thurber in the map of literary accomplishers. Perhaps one of the reasons why the short story is famous is because of the protagonist Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty holds a special place in American popular culture. For example, the Technicolor musical done in 1947 by Norman McLeod got the inspiration from the story. “The Secret of Walter Mitty” is a story of an elderly Walter Mitty who goes on a trip with his overbearing wife, called Mrs. Mitty. Because of his age, Walter struggles to be upto-date on many things. In some cases, Walter is absent minded and almost crashes his car even while driving. In addition to his ineptitude on the mechanical skills, Walter also suffers from a serious problem of memory loss. However, Walter has an exceptional imagination and that makes him a very mysterious character. Unlike “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” that is a short story, John Betjeman’s “A subaltern’s Love Song” is rhapsodic poem that explores the theme of infatuation between a person of a higher social rank and one of a lower social rank. In the poem, the narrator struggles with his love blooming love interest with a man of her higher social class as they interact while playing tennis. John Betjeman’s poem mirrors his life and his old friend, a woman named Joan Jackson who is his personal friend for fifty years. While the two pieces of literary work are distinct in form, they share so many ideas that warrant them comparison.
Perhaps the most commonality between the two pieces of literature is the idea of relationships. In the world of Walter Mitty, he is an ordinary guy with a wife, whom he loves. Still, the relationship is much more than. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is an exposition of the reality of marriage and the inside desire for bored men to break away from it. Mitty’s wife is over controlling, domineering, bossy and dictates him around. On the other hand, Mitty is overtly submissive, and allows him to be dictated by the wife. Critics have argued that Thurber’s portrayal of Mitty as a man under the control of a woman was his view of the world where women were more equal than men. The same theme of relationship is an important message on John Betjeman’s “A subaltern’s Love Song”. However, while Mitty’s relationship is disjointed, the relationship between Joan and the narrator is healthy. Through the vividness of the description, it is possible to see the gracefulness of the two love birds, the scent of conifers, the beauty of Joan’s hair and the constant dialogue as the two connect through tennis. In paragraph five, the author describes the smell in the room as the bath run, with a night drink and the two gets ready for the dance at the golf club (clugson, 2010). The Vividness of the description allows the reader to understand that theme of love is a powerful and poignant part of the poem. As such both stories have elements of a man and wife, but in “the Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, the relationship is a marriage, but in John Betjeman’s “A subaltern’s Love Song” the love is just blossoming.
In the two pieces of art, the authors play with the concept of fantasy and reality. In the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the protagonist escapes from the reality of life where he is constantly faced with an overbearing wife. In the real world, Mitty is an ordinary and passive gentleman. In the opening scene, Mitty imagines that he is the commander of “ a Navy hydroplane” going through a terrible storm” (1). Mitty also imagines himself as world famous surgeon called upon to operate on a VIP, he sometimes imagines himself as a crack head facing justice in a law court. He also imagines himself as a British patriot willing to die for his country. In fantasy, Mitty is a super- hero and possess quality that no one else have. While the story is comic and silly, because of the old Walter suddenly getting excited over speed racing and playing super-man, we are saddened with the realization that the old poor Mitty may not have the capability to reach or realize his dreams.
While “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is about fantasy and reality, and the desire to escape the reality of life, John Betjeman’s “A subaltern’s Love Song” suffuse with the idea of loving someone you can’t reach. In general, Betjeman is successful in realizing ambiguity by being able to raise questions and suggest possible outcomes (Clugston, 2010). The context of the poem is romantic and sad at the same time. It is romantic that the persona is in love with someone beyond his class. In post-colonial literary criticism, the term “subaltern” refers to people with lower social class or outside hegemonic power. Because the narrator is dating Joan, a woman of a high ranking social class, he is a subaltern to her. The chances of the two living together as a man and wife reduced because of the economic and social inequality. Perhaps, one can say, John Betjeman’s story is a cry for equality as much as it is fantasy for the nobility to dine with the commoners.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one of James Thurber’s attempts to grapple with the meaning of masculinity. The same is the case with John Betjeman in his poem “A subaltern’s Love Song”. Even though Walter is an ordinary man, he constantly dreams of being extra-ordinary. The cause of Mitty’s extra desire stems from his self-esteem. Mitty feels that he owes the world for being unable to live according to the standards set on the code of manhood. As a man, Mitty is the opposite of what the society describes as a good man, he is under the control of his wife, he is a poor driver, he doesn’t have any mechanical skills, and he forgets easily. However, his fantasy is the exact opposite of what he is in reality. He is a bold super hero figure who does wonderful things and is loved by the whole world. The imaginary qualities define what Mitty sees as the embodiment of masculine qualities. The premise of this belief is on the idea of supremacy. An ideal man has to be in charge of other men and other women, As such a man has to exercise control over other men by manipulating them, beating them up and humiliating them. The supremacy of men over other men and women is best demonstrated by Mitty’s heroic antics. The hero is the man who beat up the bad guy with his gun or physical prowess. This man is also a darling of many women ( Spack, 2007).
Just like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “A subaltern’s Love Song” attempts to mock at the society’s concept of masculinity. Satire refers to the use of literature to make fun of something while making the difference between the reality and the fantasy. A satirical writer uses literature to evoke humor often embedded with a bigger and nobler goal of making a change (Clungston, 2010). My reading of ““A subaltern’s Love Song” is that is satirizes the concept of love. Even as the narrator is a low-ranked soldier, he is weak at the thought of a young woman that he is in love with. Using the tone of the poem, one is able to tell that the narrator of the poem is in love with the woman. The narrator describes the movements of the woman, the way she interacts with the environment, and gracefulness that she embodies. The whole poem flows just because of the strong attachment between the narrator and her beloved’s beauty. However, the bigger idea is that even though the narrator is man, he is weakened by the love of a woman.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” of James Thurber’s is commonly read as a story about power, masculinity, science, and relationships, However, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” most resists a late twenty-first readers’ effort to pardon Thurber from the accusation of being a fantasist and clown-fan. Indeed it is clear that fantasy is a central element in the story. Thurber imbues his text with components that require a differentiation between fiction and transient pleasures that arise from common Anglo Saxon cultures, particularly those delights associated with the kind of self-centered and ignorant feelings as exemplified by the depiction Mitty (Kysilka, 2011). The same can be argued about John Betjeman “A subaltern’s Love Song”, a critic with post colonial perspective states that ‘ although the poem is ostensibly about love in western society, it does not deploy the axiomatic of capitalism and has happiness being embedded on material acquisition.
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Clugston, R. Wayne. Journey Into Literature. NY: Bridgepoint Education, 2010. Print.
Kysilka, Marcella L. Critical times in Curriculum Thought: People, Politics, and Perspectives. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Pub., 2011. Print.
Lean, Arthur E. And Merely Teach; Irreverent Essays on the Mythology of Education. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1968. Print.
Spack, Ruth. Guidelines: A Cross-cultural Reading/writing Text. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.