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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber
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What jars Walter out of his dreams?

Walter is jarred from his dreams by the words or demands of other people, including his wife’s scolding or expectations and directions from the parking-lot attendant. It’s a significant clue that the reason he dreams in the first place is to escape these demands and the treatment to which he is subject in his reality.

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Walter Mitty is first jarred out of one of his fantasies by the voice of his wife, who is scolding him for driving too fast. She reminds him, in a sort of astonished way, that she doesn’t like to travel at speeds of more than forty miles per hour, and he is driving at fifty-five. He had been imagining that he was steering a hydroplane in the navy, that others were counting on him to “get [them] through” because he “ain’t afraid of Hell!”

Next, Mitty imagines that he’s a surgeon, observing a delicate surgery on a millionaire banker. Just as he is asked to take over the operation, the loud voice of the parking-lot attendant, barking orders about how to maneuver his car, jars him from his reverie. In his third dream of the story, Mitty fantasizes that he is a key witness in an important and exciting courtroom trial. He is calm amid the chaos of the courtroom until he feels compelled to defend a young woman from the violence of the DA. He calls the man a “miserable cur,” a type of inferior dog, and it is this insult that helps him to recall the object his wife told him to buy while she is at the beauty shop: a box of dog biscuits.

Finally, waiting in the hotel lobby for his wife, Mitty imagines himself as a war captain, fighting the Germans. He’s a tough-talking, hard-drinking, wizened and wise soul. Again, it is his wife’s scolding that recalls him to reality: she’s irritated that she’s had to look for him, accusing him of “hid[ing] in this old chair.” In short, then, it’s always the demands, directions, or expectations of someone else that jar Walter Mitty from his dreams.

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