What is the first thing Walter Mitty daydreams about? Describe the daydream in detail?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" begins in the middle of his daydream. Readers are not introduced to Walter Mitty. We are introduced to the Commander. He is a brave and fearless leader aboard and "eight-engined Navy hydroplane." We are told that the crew is quite fearful of the storm they are flying into, and one crew member comments that the storm is growing into a likely hurricane. The Commander then begins giving short, crisp orders to his crew in order to see them through the danger. His commands involve telling various crew members to set certain engines at a particular RPM or give a turret full power. Readers are told that as the Commander moves around and gives orders, his crew "bends" to their task and are less stressed. They have complete confidence in their leader's ability to keep them all alive:

The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The Old Man’ll get us through,” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!”

romesg | Student

James Thurber's 1939 short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" begins with Walter already immersed in one of the daydreams that underpin this work of prose.  However, the reader isn't explicitly introduced to the protagonist, Walter, in this first daydream.  Instead, he is simply "the Commander." 

Immediately, the reader is given insight into the Commander.  "He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily-braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye."  Rather than wearing a service or work uniform, the Commander is bedecked in his full dress uniform in all of its splendor.  His cap, heavily-braided and worn rakishly, reflect not just rank, but aura of self-assuredness and poise.  Even his having gray eyes, a rare  pigmentation, reveal he is a man singularly-capable of piloting his "eight-engined Navy hydroplane."

These same qualities are exhibited as the Commander directs his crew to steer the hydroplane towards what the reader can assume is a heavy storm of the maritime variety.  Even as a subordinate expresses hesitation at this directive, the Commander responds, "I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Berg."  And a series of sharp and precise orders are delivered - lights are turned on, engines revved, and auxiliary engines engaged, at which point the hydroplane charges on its charted course towards the storm.  

Despite the reservation of the lieutenant, the Commander's confidence and authority is admired and even revered by the members of his crew.  "'The Old Man'll get us through,' they said to one another. 'The Old Man ain't afraid of Hell!'" 

It's here in the story that Walter is unceremoniously jarred from this daydream as his wife interjects with the first of many complaints.  "Not so fast!  You're driving too fast!"  And the reader discovers that, quite unlike the Commander, Walter is meek, soft-spoken, and prone to daytime reveries.  

It's worth noting that there are two cinematic versions loosely-based on Thurber's work.  The first, produced in 1947, featured Danny Kaye in the title role.  More recently, Ben Stiller directed and starred in the 2013 interpretation.  


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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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