Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber’s best-known story, is, like most of his fiction, short, requiring only five or six pages. As Mitty and his wife are on their way to do some errands, he indulges in a daydream in which he is a brave military commander piloting a hydroplane, but his wife interrupts by exclaiming that he is driving too fast. This pattern is repeated several times. When she urges him to make an appointment with his physician, he becomes an eminent surgeon at work, until a parking-lot attendant’s contemptuous commands call him back temporarily to reality. In reality, Mitty does not do anything very well.
Very little actually happens in Thurber’s story. Mrs. Mitty has an appointment at a hairdresser’s; Mitty himself buys a pair of overshoes. While trying to remember what his wife has asked him to buy, he becomes a cocky defendant in a murder case. He manages to buy some dog food and sinks into a chair in a convenient hotel lobby and imagines himself a bomber pilot under fierce attack. His returning wife wakes him with the admonition that she is going to take his temperature when they get home. At the end of the story, Mrs. Mitty goes into a drugstore, and he becomes a “proud and disdainful” man facing a firing squad.
Part of Thurber’s technique is to present Mitty as a man who fails even as a dreamer. His daydreams are cluttered with clichés. Whether he is a murder defendant or an Army officer, he bears...
(The entire section is 318 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
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.
(The entire section is 188 words.)
As "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" begins, a military officer orders an airplane crew to proceed with a flight through a dangerous storm. The crewmembers are scared but are buoyed by their commander's confidence, and they express their faith in him. Suddenly, the setting switches to an ordinary highway, where Walter Mitty and his wife are driving into a city to run errands. The scene on the airplane is revealed to be one of Mitty's many fantasies.
Mitty's wife observes that he seems tense, and when he drops her off in front of a hair styling salon, she reminds him to go buy overshoes and advises him to put on his gloves. He drives away toward a parking lot and loses himself in another fantasy. In this daydream he is a brilliant doctor, called upon to perform an operation on a prominent banker. His thoughts are interrupted by the attendant at the parking lot, where Mitty is trying to enter through the exit lane. He has trouble backing out to get into the proper lane, and the attendant has to take the wheel. Mitty walks away, resentful of the attendant's skill and self-assurance.
Next, Mitty finds a shoe store and buys overshoes. He is trying to remember what else his wife wanted him to buy when he hears a newsboy shouting about a trial, which sends Mitty into another daydream. Mitty is on the witness stand in a courtroom. He identifies a gun as his own and reveals that he is a skillful marksman. His testimony causes a disturbance in the...
(The entire section is 512 words.)