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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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What is the conflict in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

The primary conflict in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is internal, as it is Walter against himself. Walter is dissatisfied with himself, so he daydreams about being a more daring, heroic person. The secondary conflicts are person against society and person against person. Walter senses his opposition to the boring world of his daily life, and the story shows the constant low-level antagonism between him and his wife.

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The primary conflict in James Thurber’s story is internal. Walter Mitty is engaged in a constant struggle within himself. On a given day, he escapes into his daydreams multiple times. Walter is shown as being dissatisfied with himself but largely unable or unwilling to take steps toward changing. His fantasies display a stark contrast between the way he behaves in daily life and the ways he imagines behaving in challenging circumstances. As he fantasizes about being a risk-taking, “Type A” person, such as a pilot or a surgeon, he continues to be passive in real life.

There are important secondary conflicts in the story as well. Both are equally important in their support for Walter’s internal conflict.

One of these secondary conflicts is Walter against society. Thurber positions Walter in conflict with the world around him, which he finds boring and unappealing. The conflict is conveyed largely as petty hassles, with Walter challenged in accomplishing even simple errands, such as buying overshoes or puppy biscuits.

The other secondary conflict is person versus person. Walter is presented in opposition to his wife. She plays the dominant role in their relationship, constantly ordering him around and finding fault with the way he does things.

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