The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is James Thurber’s most famous writing. It is acclaimed for the use of words and clever humor, portraying the American culture most adeptly. Throughout the short story there were flowing themes of heroism and death. These are effectively conveyed by contrasting images and effective use of words. It is interesting that all of Walter Mitty’s fantasies have an underlying theme of death. There are five daydreams in total, and all of them have characters related to death. For example, in the second daydream, Wellington McMillan almost died in an operation, if Walter Mitty had not come and taken over the operation. Although there is a recurring theme of heroism, it bears a darker theme of death: this connotes that Mitty’s fantasies cannot be true and that his ideal world does not exist. This idea is further emphasized by Mitty’s contrasting persona in his daydream and reality. In his fantasies, others look up to Walter Mitty and expect him to heroically save the day. However, in reality, he seems lost: people order him around and are often annoyed by his slow response. A good example is when Mrs. Mitty found him in an old chair in the hotel. She scolds, “Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?” Thus, he feels condescended and humiliated by other characters in reality. The themes are better conveyed to the readers because Thurber uses effective diction to describe the situation. He uses onomatopoeia to highlight the surreal fantasies. For instance, on two occasions, James Thurber used “pocketa” to recapture the sound of machines spewing: “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketapocketa” and “pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep”. The reoccurring word is a connecting media of the Walter Mitty’s two fantasies. It inspires a light and buoyant atmosphere and thus inspires a lighthearted, almost humorous, mood against the heavy and solemn theme.
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