In "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," what gives Mitty satisfaction in his last daydream? Compare the last dream with the first. What trend do you see?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Walter Mitty's first daydream he imagines that he is the commander of a Navy hydroplane while he is actually driving a car with his wife beside him. Although he visualizes himself as a leader and an expert navigator, he is inaccurate about most of the details he invents for his daydream, such as the fact that the hydroplane has eight engines. Some of his orders are nonsense, such as, "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" and "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" (This indifference to facts is apparent in most of the other episodes, such as when Pritchard-Mitford says, "I've read your book on streprothricosis," and another doctor gives Dr. Mitty the diagnosis of the patient as "Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary.")

Mitty's daydream is abruptly shattered by his wife, who says:

"Not so fast! You're driving too fast! What are you driving so fast for?"

It is evident that his wife plays a very important role in his life and that she is a major reason for his proclivity for escaping from reality into a secret world of fantasy. She keeps reminding him of his weakness and inadequacy, while his feelings of weakness and inadequacy are what motivate him to compensate in dreams of glory.

In his last daydream, Mitty is standing outside a drugstore waiting for his wife, who ordered him:

"Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won't be a minute."

It starts to rain. Mitty stands with his back against the wall of the drugstore and lights a cigarette. Doing both these things reminds him of the custom of giving a condemned man a cigarette before he is shot by a firing squad while standing against a wall.

He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad, erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.

The contrast between the first and last daydreams in this story would seem to suggest a downward trend in Walter Mitty's morale. Since he can fantasize about anything he wants to, his choice of being shot by a firing squad seems to show a feeling of hopelessness and a disillusionment with his own solution of escapism from a cheerless world dominated by a querulous, overbearing woman, whom he not only does not love but probably unconsciously hates. His last daydream is very much like a death wish. The whole story is funny and sad at the same time, and the ending is the saddest part of all.

James Thurber himself was a melancholy man who used humor to alleviate his bouts of depression. He suffered from failing eyesight all his life because of a childhood accident in which he was hit in the eye by an arrow while playing cowboys and Indians. In his last years he was completely blind. He found that he could no longer turn his painful feelings into humor. His submissions were being rejected by the New Yorker, the magazine he helped to create. In the character of Walter Mitty, Thurber was writing about himself. One of his favorite themes, in both his writings and his cartoons, was what he once called "The War Between Men and Women."

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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