abstract illustration of a man's face and several accoutrements: scissors, gloves, glasses, tweezers, facemask, and a cigarette

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 201

In his daydreams, Mitty is a heroic, skillful, commanding character. While in the real world he is subject to defeat in the conflict with his wife and his society, in his imagination he can existentially create himself. He can take on the characteristics that he would like to embody (and which are the reverse of his actual nature), and he can be what he wants to be. This is a juvenile trait, but one that is defensive and necessary for his mental survival.

Mrs. Mitty represents the devouring force of domesticity; she brooks no heated passions or heroics that might endanger her comfortable home and lifestyle. In some ways, then, the male and female in Thurber's writing reverse literary stereotypes and include some of the characteristics exemplified in the heroes and heroines of William Faulkner's novels and the dramas of George Bernard Shaw, but Mitty, Mr. Munroe, and the other Thurber Little Men who cannot remove snow chains from their car tires and who suffer because of their overbearing wives do not have the strength of the Shavian Life-Force to drive them to true antihero status. Instead, and ironically, they defeat their unimaginative wives and restrictive society by exercising their imaginations.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 215

Mrs. Mitty
Mrs. Mitty is Walter's dominating wife. She nags him to buy galoshes, to put on his gloves, and to drive more slowly. When she asks Walter why he did not put on his overshoes before leaving the store, he responds with irritation: "I was thinking...does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" But while Mrs. Mitty may appear overly controlling and condescending, Walter is incompetent and refuses to shoulder adult responsibility. Mrs. Mitty is Walter's link to reality; she prevents accidents and helps Walter avoid losing his grasp of everyday life.

Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty is a daydreamer who imagines himself the hero of his fantasies as a navy pilot commander, doctor, sharpshooter, bomber pilot, and noble victim of a firing squad. Mitty is married to a woman who treats him more like a child than a husband. This is due to his immature tendency to escape into fantasies rather than live in the real world. He is constantly being upbraided by policemen, parking lot attendants, and his wife for his erratic, distracted behavior. Thurber's characterization of this neurotic man whose wife dominates him, who cannot fix his own car, and who lives in dreams has become an archetypal figure of the ineffectual, weak-willed, bumbling male in American culture.

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