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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber
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Is Walter Mitty undefeated?

Some would say that Walter Mitty is undefeated, because he can always escape the real world by using his imagination and finding fulfillment there. Others would argue that Walter Mitty has been defeated by the world, that he has been compelled to live in a world of daydreams because his real life is so unfulfilled and unsatisfying.

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Walter Mitty has done everything his wife has asked him to do: buy overshoes (even though he doesn’t think he needs them), pick up a box of dog biscuits (while she gets to go and have her hair done), arrive at the hotel before her so that she does not have to wait for him (though she scolded him for “hid[ing]” in a chair, which made it difficult for her to find him), and wait outside in the sleeting rain for her while she goes into the drugstore. So, to some, it might seem that Walter has been conquered—or defeated—made to do his wife’s bidding and prevented from living his own life and making his own choices.

However, on the other hand, despite his wife’s repeated scoldings, Walter continues to daydream and fantasize about more interesting and empowered lives for himself. Ultimately, Walter imagines himself facing a firing squad, inspired by his cigarette and the brick wall against which he finds himself standing. In his fantasy, he declines the use of a handkerchief with which to cover his eyes, something which is supposed to make it easier for a prisoner to face his own death. He imagines himself to be “undefeated, inscrutable to the last,” and his ability to continue to daydream—especially to imagine himself as undefeated—might prompt some readers to agree that he is.

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