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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber
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What is Walter Mitty's last daydream?

Walter Mitty’s last daydream is of being in front of a firing squad and of declining the handkerchief offered to him, with which he might cover his eyes to make the experience less frightening.

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Mrs. Mitty tells her husband to wait for her on the corner because she’s forgotten something and needs to run into the drugstore. Though she tells him she will be quick, she’s not so quick, despite the fact that it begins to rain and sleet outside. Walter leans against the...

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Mrs. Mitty tells her husband to wait for her on the corner because she’s forgotten something and needs to run into the drugstore. Though she tells him she will be quick, she’s not so quick, despite the fact that it begins to rain and sleet outside. Walter leans against the outer wall of the drugstore and lights a cigarette while he waits. Here, he imagines that he is about to be executed by a firing squad, and he has just declined the offer of a handkerchief, which would typically cover the eyes of the person about to be executed.

The handkerchief is generally thought to be a mercy to the prisoner, something to make it easier to face one’s imminent and violent death, so for Walter to decline it—even in his fantasy—shows that he wants to think of himself as someone who is brave and proud, someone who can face even the toughest and scariest of situations without fear. He imagines that, “erect and motionless,” he would stare down the firing squad as one who is “undefeated, inscrutable to the last.”

Such a daydream might encourage us to conclude that Walter feels powerless in his life, that he feels he is at the mercy of other people, like his wife, and that he can do nothing to circumvent or avoid them. However, what he can do is face them with unblinking courage.

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