A Comparison of Lord Dunsany’s Two Bottles of Relish and James Thurber’s Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“The Two Bottles of Relish,” by Lord Dunsany, written in 1932, tells the story of Smithers, a relish vendor and London resident, in his quest to sell his product, Num-numo and, along with his new roommate, Linley, solve the murder of Nancy Elth. The 1942 short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, documents the fantasies of ordinary man Walter Mitty as he attempts to escape his mundane life. Both Smithers and Mitty have low self-esteem and are ambitious in different ways, but they differ in imagination.
Both Smithers and Mitty have low opinions of themselves and permit others to push them around. Smithers shows his feelings of inferiority when he readily admits, “I’m what you might call a small man and in a small way of business”(42). He acknowledges his low opinion of his work of selling relish when he says, “ . . . it is quite easy to push . . . I wouldn’t have gotten the job if it weren’t”(42). Smithers concedes that Mr. Linley is superior when Smithers agrees to sleep in the hall to be out of Linley’s way and to do the leg work to get the clues so that Linley can solve the murder. Walter Mitty exposes his feelings of inadequacy as he remembers bungling the removal of chains from his tires and having to pay a mechanic to correct his mistake. He is totally managed by his wife which is proven when she orders him to buy overshoes, and when he protests, she continues to put him down by saying, “ ‘We’ve been through that . . . You’re not a young man any longer’”(273). Mitty further demonstrates his inability to stand up for himself when he tolerates being given orders by the parking attendant. The actions of Smithers and Mitty verify that they have no confidence in themselves.
Each man is ambitious; however, Smithers sets realistic goals, but Mitty’s aspirations have no basis in reality. Smithers simply wants to be a better salesman and proves his desire when he becomes excited about living with Linley because Smithers thinks by learning to sound more sophisticated he can sell to a larger clientele, and he proclaims, “ If I picked up only a quarter of it from this Mr. Linley I’d be able to double my sales”(43). Smithers is so committed to his goal that he is willing to pay more rent than he can afford to soak up Linley’s knowledge. Also, Smithers displays the initiative to solve the murder and does all the work by traveling to Unge to gather the clues needed to solve the mystery. He displays his determination to sell his product in Unge after he finds out that...