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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber
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Why does Walter Mitty fantasize?

Walter Mitty fantasizes in order to escape his feeling of powerlessness and his sense that people do not respect him in his real life. In his fantasies, he is well-respected and admired, and this must give him some satisfaction that his real life, with his condescending wife and unfulfilling social interactions, does not.

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Walter Mitty fantasizes because his own life is so incredibly mundane and because he seems to feel so generally dismissed and unimportant to the people in it. His wife bosses him around, telling him where to go and what to do, and there is really no room for him to disagree with her. He has to be where she wants him to be and when, as she does not like to wait for him. She treats him like a child. At the end of the story, she gets irritated with him because she could not find him at the hotel where they were supposed to meet, and she accuses him of “hid[ing] in [an] old chair.” He says that he was “thinking,” asking, “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?” Her response indicates that this never does occur to her and that she now believes he is ill.

Mitty also feels dismissed, laughed at even, by the parking-lot attendant and by a man in a “wrecking car” he recalls. They seem so adept, so smooth and confident, while he seems much less confident and more bumbling and ridiculous, so he makes a plan to wear his arm in a sling the next time he has to take his car to the garage, thinking this will stop them from laughing at him. But in his fantasies, Mitty is charming, self-assured, respected. He seems to fantasize, in part, in order to feel as though he has some control and is thought of as capable, even extraordinary, by others rather than ordinary or, worse, idiotic.

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