Reading Reflection

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Reading Reflection: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Reading Reflection: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


Although Walter Mitty's daydream life has much exciting action, his waking life, as recounted in the story, is routine, uneventful, and, at a deep subconscious level, unsatisfying. In his waking life, Mitty motors on a wintry day with his wife into Waterbury for the regular weekly trip to shop and for Mrs. Mitty's visit to the beauty parlor. After dropping his wife off at the salon, Mitty drives around aimlessly for a brief time, then parks the car in a parking lot, purchases some overshoes at a shoe store, with some difficulty remembers to buy puppy biscuit, and goes to the hotel lobby where he always meets his wife. After a short time Mrs. Mitty appears, complaining to Mitty about the difficulty of finding him in the large chair where he has “hidden” himself, and then for a “minute” (actually much longer) leaves Mitty standing in front of a nearby drugstore while she goes to accomplish something she forgot.Interspersed with these events are Mitty's five daydreams or fantasies, which not only are induced by the events of his waking life but also affect them.

Themes and Meanings

James Thurber's expression through his characterization of the protagonist of the ineptitude, oppression, and disappointment nearly all human beings at some time feel in their lives in the real world (particularly in middle age) is so universally applicable that the name “Walter Mitty” has been canonized as a term in the English language denoting these ideas by inclusion in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary (2002) and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition (1993).

The story's four main themes are the contrast between a human being's hopes for life and its actuality, the power of the mind or imagination, the conflict between the individual and authority, and the ascendancy of technology and materialism in the twentieth century. These themes are conveyed through the deflating disparity between Mitty's heroic ability and stature in his five daydreams and his hesitancy, servility, and ineptitude in real life. Mitty's first fantasy of captaining a hydroplane in a terrible ice storm is shot down, so to speak, by his domineering wife, who says that Mitty is driving the car too fast on the icy highway into town. Mitty's second fantasy, of being a published, world-renowned medical specialist and surgeon, is punctured by having been evoked by a double subordination, to his wife and to the family doctor; in subconscious reaction to his wife's patronizing attitude in her response to his highway driving.

In his third daydream, Mitty, the defendant in a murder trial, is yet in control in the courtroom, bravely exploding his attorney's alibi that Mitty's right arm was in a sling the night of the murder (Mitty boldly announces his expert ambidextrous marksmanship) and with youthful virility adroitly punching the chin of the district attorney, who has physically accosted Mitty's beautiful young beloved on her headlong rush to join Mitty on the witness ...
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