The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

In James Thurber’s 1939s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the main

character Walter Mitty, uses his imagination as a need to escape and express the emotions of

anger along with self-pit that he feels daily. By means of daydreaming, he is able to escape the

trivial details of everyday life and achieve freedom from his reality. Through the literary

essentials of character, tone, and symbolism, James Thurber is able to illustrate how Walter

Mitty escapes his everyday life by fantasizing.

The title of this fascinating story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” confirms to the

reader that they will be involved in Walter Mitty’s “secret life” which surely is his imagination.

During the course of the story, Walter Mitty experiences five daydreams where he renovates

himself as somebody else, a grander, more improved self. In these daydreams, Walter Mitty is

often a brave and heroic figure, while in reality he is only a regular, insignificant man living an

average life.

The story was very compelling to me because it caught my attention right from the start

with its tone of intensity and danger in the opening paragraph when he demands that the air craft

he is piloting as a Navy Commander head straight through a major storm. As the paragraph

comes to an end one of the personnel on the plane reaffirms another that Mitty would be able to

get them through it, that the old man was afraid of nothing (Clugston, 2010). However, in

everyday life the main character avoids conflict and danger.

Then during the very next paragraph we realize that it was nothing more than Mitty

getting lost inside his own imagination as he is actually driving his wife into town. The

realization sets in when his wife yells at him for going several miles over the speed limit. The

short story is also somewhat humorous in that the author puts Mitty in situations that are

outrageous and outlandish, and puts a understanding through Mitty that is usually as incorrect as

you can get, such as giving the banker a disease that is prevalent in livestock, or a weapon with a

caliber that in real life would be over four feet wide (Clugston, 2010).

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” effectively utilizes third person narrative point of view,

because it provides an insight into each character’s thoughts within the text. This type of

narration allows the author to describe the actions occurring around the main characters and

how the protagonist, Walter Mitty, daydreams to escape from his unhappy, boring life far from

his nagging, domineering wife. Walter is portrayed as a relatively quiet man, a weak man, who

lives a dull life being bossed around by his wife, so for him, these escapes from reality to fantasy

enrich Walter’s life and create the life he wishes he had (Prinsky, 2004). Mrs. Mitty is portrayed

as being assertive and bossy, and seems to take pleasure telling Walter what to do. Examples of

these are right in the first few paragraphs of the story when she tells him to slow down and to put

his gloves on. Mrs. Mitty treats Walter more like a child than her husband.

Character traits throughout the story are one of the elements that helps reveal the theme.

Walter Mitty is described as a meek and mild-mannered, hen-pecked husband who learns to

escape reality through his daydreams. Most of Walter Mitty’s sluggish behavior is probably

caused by his wife’s overpowering and demanding attitude. She is a nag and an extremely

overbearing woman, who is perhaps the ultimate cause of Walter’s secret life. My belief is that

Mrs. Mitty is definitely the dominant one in the relationship, and as orders are given by her,

Walter begins to wander into his fantasy world. Living with Mrs. Mitty clearly poses problems

and frustrations but Walter never seems to complain, he appears to...
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