What is the significance of Walter Mitty's fantasies?

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The famous short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber tells of a man who has one amazing, adventurous, graphic fantasy after another while out on a shopping trip with his wife. The significance of the fantasies for Walter Mitty is that they help him cope with his mundane existence and his domineering wife who makes no effort to understand him. Thurber presents Mitty as someone who is deeply dissatisfied with his life as it is, and he uses the fantasies to make his life more interesting and exciting.

In the story, each of the fantasies is set off by something in the real world that corresponds with what Mitty fantasizes about. For instance, Mitty imagines himself piloting a Navy hydroplane when he is actually driving a car, and then his wife interrupts by telling him he is driving too fast. The fantasy about Mitty as a brilliant surgeon is brought on because his wife makes a comment about his gloves, which then become surgical gloves. The courtroom drama fantasy happens because Mitty hears a newsboy shout out about a trial. He imagines himself volunteering to fly a plane over Germany after reading an article about flying in a magazine. While smoking on a street corner, Mitty imagines that it is his last cigarette while facing a firing squad.

In each of these fantasies, Mitty uses his imagination to embellish ordinary events, so that his life will be more exciting and less of a drudgery.

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It is noteworthy that Walter Mitty's fantasies are not totally fantastic, but for one thing they are appropriate to his age. We gather that he must be in his late forties or early fifties. His wife tells him to wear his gloves and galoshes and reminds him, "You're not a young man any longer." He does not imagine himself hitting home runs or racing for touchdowns, as a young man might do. In his first fantasy, Mitty is not driving a car on a shopping trip to Waterbury but has become Commander Mitty piloting a "huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane" in a storm that is "spoiling for a hurricane." In the second fantasy, evidently inspired by Mrs. Mitty saying, "I wish you'd let Dr. Renshaw look you over," Mitty becomes a distinguished surgeon qualified to operate on a "millionaire banker and close personal friend of Roosevelt." Obviously it has taken Dr. Mitty many years to reach the top of his profession and to be able to handle all kinds of medical emergencies. His third fantasy is triggered by hearing a newsboy "shouting something about the Waterbury trial." Mitty's age is not specified, but he imagines himself a weapon's expert on trial for murdering a man named Gregory Fitzhurst. His fourth fantasy is inspired by his glancing through an article in an old copy of Liberty magazine titled "Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?" Mitty becomes Captain Mitty, a gallant ace pilot in World War I. In this case he makes himself a younger man serving in an earlier war, but evidently he is in command of the whole squadron. His last fantasy is inspired by the simple fact that he is standing with his back against a wall to keep out of the falling rain and sleet. He imagines himself standing before a firing squad. His age in this role in not indicated, but the fantasy seems to suggest the death wish of an aging man who is getting tired of the pointless life he has been leading in the world of reality. The firing-squad fantasy is also inspired by the fact that Mitty has lighted a cigarette. He knows it is customary for men to be given a last cigarette before being shot.

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