What different type of literary devices are used in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," a tale of a mediocre man whose fantasy life impinges upon real life, abounds with certain literary devices.

Mock Jargon

Thurber makes use of mock-jargon for Mitty's daydreams.  For instance, Thurber distorts many medical terms such as "obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary" and "Coreopsis." Technological advancements and items of warfare are also distorted humorously with wordplay. For instance, the complicated machine in the operating room connected to the operation table by tubes and wires, misfires and Dr. Mitty fixes it with a fountain pen. In his first daydream, Mitty commands a Navy hydroplane, a "SN202" that he orders, "Rev her up to 8,5000." Then, in another daydream, Mitty identifies a gun as his "Webley-Vickers 50.80."

Onomatopoeia and rhyme

With humor also, Thurber employs words that imitate sounds. For instance, the "pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa" sound recurs through Mitty's daydreams, suggesting that it is a real sound that Mitty translates into his imaginary world. 

As he tries to remember what he was supposed to buy, Mitty's mind makes associations only of sound, not of things, with these words, "carborundum...and referendum" and "pandemonium."


The millionaire banker that Mitty imagines himself is a close personal friend of Roosevelt.  The expression "Coals to Newcastle" is a saying that indicates unnecessary labor in reference to the coal city of England, Newcastle.

"The Archies" is the name for the allied troops' antiaircraft guns in World War I.

"Aupres de Ma Blonde" is the title of a popular French song during the war.


Much like Rip van Winkle's termagant spouse, Walter Mitty's wife symbolizes the authority of society.  For, it is only in his dream life that Walter Mitty has some self-reliance.

Dramatic Irony

In his fantasies, Walter Mitty imagines himself heroic; he is a flying ace, an accomplished doctor,  a millionaire, a courageous man, an officer in the military.  He is "Walter Mitty the Undefeated." However, the truth is that Walter Mitty cannot even back his car properly into the garage where attendants can fix it.

It is these profound ironic contrasts that deepen the readers' understanding of Walter Mitty. For, he is an archetypal comic figure, much like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, a man who seeks to escape, but he finds self-reliance only in a dream.


Thurber's story parodies several groups of people throughout the daydreams of Walter: the military officer, surgeons, macho men, the melodrama hero.


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