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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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

The moral of the short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber is that excessive daydreaming can be harmful to the person who daydreams and also to the people around them.

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The famous short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber tells of a man who slips easily from reality into intense daydreams. He is on an excursion to town with his wife, and as they are driving, he becomes lost in the fantasy of commanding a Navy hydroplane during a storm. Soon after, passing a hospital and taking off his gloves makes him project himself into a surgery room where he is the only doctor qualified to save a patient. He next pictures himself in a courtroom as a suspect in a murder trial. As he sits in a hotel lobby and picks up a magazine with a story about the war, he mentally becomes an ace pilot who is willing to brave enemy fire to destroy an ammunition dump. Finally, lighting a cigarette outside a drugstore makes him imagine that he bravely faces a firing squad.

Everybody daydreams to some extent, but Mitty obviously does it to excess, so much so that he loses touch with the real world. Sometimes the result is mere absentmindedness, as when he forgets what he is doing or what he is supposed to purchase, but sometimes his daydreaming can be dangerous, as when he speeds up the car without realizing it as he imagines himself commanding the hydroplane. It is clear that his wife thinks that something is wrong, as she suggests that he should see a doctor and that she wants to take his temperature when they get home.

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is often perceived as a character study of a meek, mild-mannered man who escapes into daydreams as a means of avoiding his domineering wife. However, although his wife's comments are mundane, they are always reasonable. It is Mitty whose behavior is unusual, counterproductive, and even dangerous.

The moral of a story is the message or lesson that the writer is attempting to impart. If there is a moral in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," it would be that excessive daydreaming is self-destructive and can even be dangerous to those around.

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