What is the rising and falling action of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Thurber's short story about a mediocre man whose fantasy life impinges upon his real life is both humorous and tragic.

Immediately in the exposition, the reader is immersed into the imaginary world of Walter Mitty. Then, abruptly his wife invades this world and scolds him and gives him instructions on what to do while she is at the hairdresser. 


The rising action involves heroic daydreams of Mitty mixed with his mundane errands and weak attempts to rebel. 

  • As he drops Mrs. Mitty at the beauty shop, she tells Walter to put on his gloves; he does so, but quickly pulls them off after she gets out of the car. Soon, a policeman barks at him, "Pick it up, buddy!" and the intimidated Mitty puts his gloves back on. This action triggers another imaginative escape as he imagines himself as a medical specialist.
  • Mitty's brief interlude from the vicissitudes of life is interrupted as he hears, "Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!" The insolent parking attendant tells Mitty that he will park the car, and a humiliated Mitty walks off remembering another "young, grinning garageman" who took the snow chains off his tires. As he walks toward the stores, he tries to remember what the second thing is that he is supposed to purchase.
  • The frustration of trying to remember his errands sets off another daydream. This time Mitty, a "crack shot with any sort of firearms," is on the witness stand during a murder trial. But, suddenly Mitty remembers the puppy biscuits that he has temporarily forgotten. A woman who passes him laughs. She tells her companion what Mitty has said, and Walter hurries away in embarrassment.
  • Walter Mitty quickens his steps to the hotel where he is supposed to wait for his wife. Finding a large leather chair that faces a window, Mitty retreats into the seat as he waits.
  • Another daydream takes Mitty away from the insipid and demeaning life he leads. This time Mitty is a war hero. However, this dream is interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Mitty, who typically scolds her husband.


  • After the berating of his nagging wife, Mrs. and Mr. Mitty leave the hotel through the revolving doors. As they walk the two blocks to the parking garage, they stop at a drug store. "Wait here for me. I forgot something...." Mrs. Mitty orders.

Walter Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain, rain with sleet in it. He stood against the wall of the drugstore, smoking.....He put his shoulders back and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter Mitty scornfully.

The story concludes as Walter Mitty "the Undefeated, inscrutable to the end" faces a firing squad.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I think you can point to several points across the plot for the rising action. At the point when we see Mitty's second day dream and he is a doctor, we are into the rising action. We have seen the first trigger that puts him into his dream world: a cranky, nagging wife: her introduction is what I would call the inciting incident. It begins the rising action. After his experiences as a doctor, we see continued rising action as the parking lot attendent catches him mid-daydream. Next, he tries to go buy whatever he was supposed to for his wife. He turns into a courtroom witness (daydream). Then he goes to buy a buscuit for the dog (real life). He then becomes a heroic bomber (daydream).

The climax occurs when he finally catches up with his wife again... the potential source of his need to daydream about being successful.

The falling action is fast in this one, she claims she is going to check into his health and goes into a store. He remains outside.


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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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