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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” is a short story about a tired, frustrated, hen-pecked middle-aged man who uses fantasy to escape the realities of his everyday life.  The story, written in the course of a typical outing with his wife, shows Mitty breaking from reality on several occasions to become: a heroic doctor, a crack shot on trial for murder, a fearless Navy Captain, and finally, a victim in the line of a firing squad.  Each of the roles that Thurber chooses for Mitty speaks more about what the author intended to convey about Mitty than the actual story itself.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

At the outset of the story, we find Mitty and his wife in route to the beauty parlor.  Thurber presents Mitty’s wife as a domineering, know-it-all who has led Walter into the role of submissive onlooker.  After a brief and somewhat insulting conversation with his wife, Walter leaves, off to run errands.  Shortly after leaving his wife, Mitty slips into the role of Dr. Mitty, desperately trying to save the life of a millionaire banker.  It is interesting that shortly after being emasculated by his wife, Mitty would fall into a fantasy role in which he is powerful, respected and “in control,” several of the key things he is not in his marriage or his life.

Suddenly snapped from this fantasy by a parking attendant, Walter’s mind returns to the task of remembering what his wife had instructed him to do.  Unable to remember anything beyond purchasing overshoes, Mitty slips into a fantasy role of crack shot in the midst of a murder trial.  Spurred by the unsavory thoughts of his wife, Mitty once again fantasizes about being a heroic, powerful, cunning man, taking control of his life at every turn.

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