How does James Thurber use fantasy to convey ideas about reality in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fantasy is utilized by author James Thurber as Walter Mitty's escape from an embarrassing or humiliating situation.

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" begins in media res of one daydream, and Mitty is summoned back to reality by the scolding of his overbearing wife: "Not so fast! You're driving too fast! [...] What are you driving so fast for?" Mitty's fantasies impinge upon reality, as in one daydream he has been driving quickly because he imagines that he is piloting an eight-engined Navy hydroplane.

Clearly, the boundaries between the two realms of fantasy and reality become extremely porous as Walter Mitty goes in and out of fantasy, just as the voice of Mrs. Mitty fades in and out. After a particularly detailed scolding about buying overshoes and wearing his gloves, and then a command from a traffic cop ("Pick it up, brother!"), Mitty lurches ahead, and then drives around aimlessly until he passes a hospital. Again, his imagination is ignited and takes control of his mind; he dreams that he is a competent surgeon. This fantasy is interrupted by the real voice of a parking-lot attendant, "Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!" But, after grumbling to himself, Mitty has soon returned to his imaginary world in which he plays the roles of heroes that are desperately struggling to heal Mitty's wounded ego and manhood. Unfortunately, these fortifying daydreams are all too soon erased when Mrs. Mitty scolds anew. In the end, as he seeks refuge in a winged chair of the hotel where he is to wait for his wife, Mitty, broken by this termagant, imagines himself against a wall, facing a firing squad and a possible breakdown in real life.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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