In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber, why does Walter Mitty choose to daydream? 

In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber, why does Walter Mitty choose to daydream?


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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Mitty is an urban man who is harassed by his wife. A bumbling, insecure man, he loses himself in heroic daydreams.

Mitty chooses to daydream to escape from the harping of his wife, who is either complaining about something he has done or ordering him to perform mediocre tasks. With this complaining, Mrs. Mitty denies her husband independence. For instance, when Mitty drops his wife off at the hairdressers, she tells him, "Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done." However, when Mitty says, "I don't need overshoes," she calmly replaces her mirror into her purse and replies in a condescending tone, "We've been all through that. . . . You're not a young man any longer."

Obediently, Mitty drops off his wife and soon begins a daydream because he wants to alleviate his repression for more adventurous and heroic imaginings. After driving aimlessly for a while, he goes past a hospital, and his imagination is ignited. Now he perceives himself as a famous medical specialist: Dr. Mitty has been called in to repair a machine that is connected to the operating table. "The new anesthetizer is giving way," an intern shouts, but the quick-thinking Mitty pulls a faulty piston out and replaces it with a fountain pen. Mitty then puts on rubber gloves, and the nurses attend him with operating instruments. Unfortunately, however, Mitty's saving operation is interrupted by a parking garage attendant. Furthermore, his subsequent daydreams are also interrupted, so Mitty fails to achieve manly success. Consequently, Walter Mitty finds the boundary between reality and fantasy becoming more and more porous as his repression deepens.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter Mitty leads a life that is probably a lot different than the one he thought he would lead at a young age.  He is a devoted family man who probably has a nice desk job, but he desires more adventure in his life.  In the opening scene, he imagines that he is a captain responsible for getting his crew through a storm.  In reality, his wife jolts him back to reality by asking him about his fast driving and telling him to wear his gloves.  In another scene, he is a world-renowned surgeon who is saving lives with fountain pens, when in reality he is annoying a parking lot attendant with his distracted nature.  Mitty likes his fantasy life because it lets him remember what it is like to have masculine dreams of saving the day and being a hero--he feels that this does not exist for him in real life.  

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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