Mrs. Mitty’s hairdresser appointment causes Walter to go with her. On the ride there, he imagines he is a Navy hydroplane operator. He gets so carried away that he starts to drive a little too fast for his wife’s preference. As he is leaving the hairdresser, he envisions himself as a doctor who must examine and save a patient’s life. Mitty snaps out of it while he is driving. He tries to remember what his wife said to buy, but he quickly becomes distracted. In his daydream he begins to become involved with a murder case in the courtroom. In real life, he manages to buy dog food and he sits in a hotel lobby and begins a new daydream. This time it is him being a pilot that is under attack. His wife finally returns and tells him she is going to check his temperature when they get home because she is worried about Walter. At the end of the story, Mrs. Mitty goes into a drugstore and Walter has one final daydream. The last fantasy is about him being a proud and brave man who faces a firing squad “Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty, the undefeated, inscrutable to the last” (Thurber).
Character of Walter Mitty
Walter Mitty is truly a unique character. He does not do many interesting things in his life. He finds that daydreaming can fulfill his desires to make his life more exciting. This short story takes the readers in-depth with Walter’s fantasies. He takes any chance he gets to imagine what it would be like living a different life, even if there were harsh conditions. In the daydreams, he shows characteristics such as bravery, courage, determination, and intelligence. The characteristics that are most common in his daydreams are the ones he lacks most of in his real life. “In his fantasies, not only is his life exciting but his imagined persona is heroic and resourceful as well. In his daydreams he is a figure larger than life, unflappable and in control in every situation; in reality he is a character critics have dubbed the “little man”, ineffectual and somewhat ridiculous” (Ring).
Walter has five imaginative daydreams throughout this short story. To go into depth, his first daydream is about him being a Navy hydroplane operator. It starts off with Walter as the plane operator controlling the plane that’s headed for the hurricane. Walter had to show bravery and courage to operate the plane. He also had to show leadership and take charge. In real life, Walter would have never shown those traits if he was in that situation. The second fantasy was about him being a doctor. He is a famous surgeon that ends up saving the day. The people in the hospital are desperate, “’Wish you’d take a look at him. ’Glad to’” (Thurber). He needs to examine a patient and turns out, he must save that patient. He had to show perseverance, confidence, intelligence, and be capable to work under pressure. His real-life characteristics do not match with his alter persona at all. They are totally different people with not many things in common personality wise.
The next daydream was his character in a very different setting compared to some of the others. He is in a courtroom listening to a district attorney and judge. He is the defendant in a famous trial. “The courtroom scene could be from a low-budget 1940s mystery movie or a paperback crime novel” (Ring). He sees a beautiful lady and she ends up in his arms near the end of the daydream. He must act smart and very romantic. This fantasy brings up a flirty side of him that is not seen in the other daydreams. He is very intelligent in this and he loves the feeling of being good enough or being wanted. In the following fantasy, he is a pilot getting ready to go into war. He shows great amounts of bravery and courage. He is extremely determined. He shows extreme amounts of fearlessness. He is about to go to war, and he doesn’t convey any signs of fear, which is the opposite of Walter’s true character in real life.
The fifth and final daydream expresses a huge message about Walter’s mental health. His wife goes into the drugstore to pick up something quickly. At this point, he has had enough. He doesn’t feel wanted or respected. He lights a cigarette and leaned against the wall just thinking about life. The mood becomes gloomy, “It began to rain, rain with sleet in it” (Thurber). He was over how his wife treated him like an outsider and not her husband. As soon as he snaps the cigarette away, he dazes into his last daydream of the story. He faces a firing squad. He has courage but also grit. He portrays the image of someone who is not afraid of death. Walter realizes how much he hates the reality of his life because of how dull it is how he cannot escape it.
Mrs. Mitty is Walter Mitty’s realistic, down-to-earth wife. She is constantly snapping him back to reality. She is the connection between Walter and the real world. She treats him like a child because she does not think he is capable of doing simple tasks. “’I’ve been looking all over this hotel for you,’ said Mrs. Mitty. ‘Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?’ ‘Things close in,’ said Walter Mitty vaguely. ‘What?’ Mrs. Mitty said. ‘Did you get the what’s-its-name? The puppy biscuit? What’s in that box?’ ‘Overshoes,’ said Mitty. ‘Couldn’t you have put them on in the store?’ ‘I was thinking,’ said Walter Mitty. ‘Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?’ She looked at him. ‘I’m going to take your temperature when I get you home,’ she said” (Thurber). She continuously criticizes Walter and treats him foolishly. She is also extremely embarrassed by him. She doubts him in every way. She makes him feel unappreciated, unloved and forgotten.
James Thurber was a creative writer and cartoonist. He makes the character of Walter Mitty big dreamer with a huge imagination. He has a unique way of writing the story. “Thurber’s work is a form of humor which is also a way of saying something serious” (Idema). He gets a deep message in while using a slight amount of humor. James learned to appreciate writing when he got an injury, “When Thurber was about 7, he lost an eye in an accident while playing with his brothers” (James). The injury caused him to be shy and he felt like an outsider until he went to Ohio State University and learned that he had a passion for writing. His first marriage to Althea Adams did not work out very well. His wife at the time was not supportive of his interest in writing at all. She thought it was foolish. They got divorced soon after. He got married a second time to Helen Wimser. She was an incredibly supportive and loving wife. She encouraged James instead of tearing him down as his previous wife did. James’ life and Walter’s life were two very similar parallels. They both had partners at some point that didn’t believe in them and what they loved to do.
The short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, by James Thurber, conveys the message of displeasure in life. Dissatisfaction in life leads to either imagination or manipulation and conflict. The protagonist, Walter Mitty, was a dreamer. He was someone with an active and incredible mind that he used to escape his boring reality. The antagonist, Mrs. Mitty, was a realist and always tried to keep Walter in reality. She was cruel to him and disrespected him for wanted to be creative and daydream. In the end, Walter was fed up with how he was being treated by the person who was supposed to support him. What Walter Mitty needed was a wife like James’ second wife that supported, accepted, and loved him and his passions and dreams.