Why is Walter Mitty speeding when the story starts?"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber
Walter Mitty is fantasizing about piloting a tremendously powerful hydroplane in a storm. As Commander Mitty, he shouts orders indicating that he needs more power. Here are his orders:
"Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500!"
"Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!
"Full strength in No. 3 turret!" "Full strength in No. 3 turret!"
These orders are all meaningless, but they all call for more power. It would be natural for Mitty to press down a little harder on the gas pedal of his car and gradually accelerate during this fantasy. He is not really going very fast, but he speeds up from forty miles per hour to fifty-five. He might have continued to accelerate if his wife hadn't burst into his daydream by saying:
"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!"
Mitty was really lost in his fantasy.
He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd.
It was probably a good thing that his wife cautioned him. Indulging in such fantasies while driving a car can be dangerous. He might have gone up to sixty or sixty-five. The story was published in The New Yorker in 1939. American cars in those days could go as fast as eighty or ninety mph. A man like Mitty would be likely to lose control of the vehicle if they got up as high as 70 mph, especially on the kind of country road on which they were probably traveling to get to Waterbury, Connecticut.
James Thurber wrote a somewhat similar story about a middle-aged couple traveling in a car with the man driving. The title of that story is "A Couple of Hamburgers." It was reprinted in two collections of his short pieces: Let Your Mind Alone and The Thurber Carnival. The Thurber Carnival is his best anthology because it contains stories, essays, and a generous selection of his cartoons and drawings.
For Walter Mitty, the boundaries between reality and fantasy are incredibly porous. So, in the opening paragraphs the stereotypical hen-pecked husband pretends that he is piloting a military plane when in reality he is driving the family car with his nagging wife beside him. However, he is brought back to reality by the voice of this termagant wife:
"Not so fast! Your're driving too fast!" said Mr. Mitty....
"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd.
Still, to drown out her voice, Mitty once again dissolves into fantasy as Mrs. Mitty comments on his tension. In addition to escaping from the constant scoldings of his wife, Walter Mitty daydreams because his own life is dull and mediocre. For, by daydreaming as he does, Walter can be an assertive, important personage.