Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of the most famous masterpieces done by James Thurber and is a short story which is more often anthologized in the world of literature. It is a story of a desperate man who does not want to face real life situations but tries to escape through having constant daydreams. Walter Mitty daydreams of living an exorbitant and exotic lives of others that are very successful and happy than he himself his. His daydreams are not that harmful but it catches Mitty off guard as soon as he comes to reality. Thurber did narrate the story just as an observant in omniscient and from a third-person point of view which has made possible for him to reveal the character of Walter Mitty as he encounters daily activities. He did not enter into the mind of Mrs. Mitty but brought out her character through her speaking and actions in interaction with Mr. Mitty.
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Mrs. Mitty is seen as a domineering woman, she nags her husband to buy overshoes, to put on the gloves and to avoid speeding. Despite all the negative portraits of his wife, he is incomplete and cannot attend to real life issues; she is her husband’s link to the real world, she ensures that her husband avoid accidents and losing the sight of the real world.
The story talks about Mitty’s five heroic daydream scenes. In the first dream he is a pilot in the US navy boat, then as a brilliant surgeon operating a prominent individual, then as an assassin testifying in the court room, then as a pilot in Royal Air Force (RAF) and finally he dreams of facing a firing squad.
The dreams happen as Mitty and his wife are driving to Waterbury for the usual weekly shopping and for her wife to attend to the parlor. While driving he has his first dream as a pilot being instructed to switch to a certain number, he takes the instructions and sped his car. The dream vanishes as his wife barks at him to slow down. Mitty has the second dream of him as the brilliant surgeon after dropping his wife at hairdressers and while driving past a hospital. The third dream as an assassin happen as soon the newsboy shouts the headline on Waterbury trial and after buying stuff for her wife.
While reading a magazine on air power, he dreams the fourth as a captain and suddenly her wife taps his shoulder and awakes him. He and his wife drives home but on the way she stops in a pharmacy, it begins to rain and the fifth dream occurs, he lights a cigar, stands against the wall with pride ready to face the firing squad. This may have marked the end of his undoing, the story leaves us at a suspense wondering what really happened, was he fired, will he be seeing a psychiatrist or will he separate from his wife.
The setting of the story seems pretty clear, Thurber mention the hairdresser probably the salon, the parking lot, drugstore and a lobby hotel, all these are our everyday life settings and normally are dull places. The dullness of these places brings out the dull nature Walter Mitty’s life. A sharp contrast is seen with Mitty’s dreams of fantasies. The operating room, the brilliant surgeon and the lighting of a cigar in front of a firing squad all these provided a dramatic and exciting setting.
Themes that are portrait in the story are success and failure, vicarious adventure and escapism among others. The theme success and failure is portrait though Mitty not being able to attain his life expectations which as forced him to live life full of fantasies. Mitty probably had a desire to be like others who are successful for example he desires those in Air Force or as a doctor but because of the failure and inability to achieve the same he opts to achieve it through the dream world. Another theme portrait is escapism, because he cannot achieve the life expectations he chose to dreaming as a scapegoat. He does not want to face real life situations but tries to escape through having constant daydreams.
The theme of violence can as well be said to exist in the story. Napierkowski has that Mitty in his self seems to hold unexpressed acts of violence, from the look of all his day dreams it centers on guns and death. Even the peaceful daydream in the hospital operating a patient may imply the spilling of human blood; one may argue that Mitty may one day resort to re-express all his violent acts to the public at large. Although it may have not been the intention of Thurber to point on Mitty’s psychological mind there is need to lift the lid on his subconscious.
The secret life of Walter Mitty story is full of literature elements such as symbolism, imagery and allegory. The sound of “pocketa-pocketa-pocketa” is imagery to the sound of pounding cylinders in the”Navy hydroplane”. Imagery element is also portrait when Mitty imagined himself as a British pilot; flame-throwers made similar sounds of his car engine which he hears as he drives his wife into the town.
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Symbolism has been employed in short story immensely, there is the use tire chains, gloves, overshoes and the car which are being used by Mrs. Mitty to dominate her husband. She is seen to be commanding her husband to wear gloves, drive slowly and ordering him to buy her overshoes. Climax is another element used by the author and it seems to occur on the final daydream. It is said to be a climax because all his problems seems to have an end. For example having him executed by the firing squad may mean that he decided to put an end to all his problems. The story is presented to the audience through narration style. In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber narrates the story of Walter Mitty, as an individual who lives in a fantasy world in order to escape responsibilities and humiliations he undergoes in real life situations. The story itself just happens over a single day where Walter and his wife are out on their usual shopping trip. Mitty then begins his daydreams, which are interrupted by her wife cautioning him to be alert for example he is told to drive slowly. Thurber has effectively design the story’s narrative to link Mitty’s “secret life” with the real life.
Repetition of sounds has been used in the story. For instance Thurber employed onomatopoeia “pocketa-pocketa-pocketa” in emulating the sound of the aircraft in the first dream, he uses the same sound also while imitating the sound of anesthetizes and in the third daydream to imitate flame throwers. There is the use of wordplay in the story, for instance the word “obstreosis of the ductal track” also “coreopsis has set in” does mean anything in relation to Medicare but are used by the author to blend the story.
Thurber masterpiece is more relevant it the current society, most people have chosen to escape from their responsibilities most notably parents that cannot provide basic necessities to the family are seeking solace in negative social activities. Individuals that do not attain expected standards like passing an exam are not without this context since they opt to escape the reality by daydreaming or engaging in other activities such as drinking alcohol and drugs, afterwards drifting into a world of fantasy.
Napierkowski, M. R. (2006). The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Introduction. Short Stories for Students,
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