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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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Describe Walter Mitty's wife in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

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Walter's wife, known in the story as "Mrs. Mitty," treats Walter like an absent-minded child. She is overbearing, condescending, and critical towards Walter. But she is also Walter's link to the real world. While Walter is off in his own imagination, it is his wife or other people who bring him back to reality. This relationship of Walter's imagination (his escape from reality) and his wife's nagging (in efforts to bring him back to reality) is an uncertain "chicken and the egg" situation. We, readers, don't know if Walter's imagination is what caused his wife to become the practical, reality-based wife that she is or if Walter uses his imagination as an escape from his overbearing wife. Even if we knew which came first (Walter being absent-minded or his wife being condescending), it is just as likely that over the course of their marriage, Walter's and his wife's behaviors fed off of each other; and therefore, who started the whole cycle is somewhat irrelevant.

At the end of the story, when Mrs. Mitty returns from her appointment, Walter says, "Things close in." This is noted as a vague statement but could be interpreted to illustrate how Walter feels about the real world. He feels trapped and therefore resorts to fantasies in order to escape from that trapped feeling. One could sympathize with Mrs. Mitty, knowing that Walter is always absent-minded to the point of being careless. On the other hand, one could sympathize with Walter. Even when Walter tells her he was thinking, a valid excuse, she dismisses it as a fever: 

"I was thinking," said Walter Mitty. "Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She looked at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said. 

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What role does Walter Mitty's wife play in his fantasies 

Walter Mitty's wife does not play any role in any of his fantasies. This is suggestive. Apparently his fantasies are, among other things, a means of escape from his hectoring wife. He has a "secret life" because his fantasies are kept a secret mainly from her. It is also suggestive that there is no apparent misogyny in his fantasies. If he hated his wife and wanted to get rid of her, these feelings might be detectable in his fantasies. But he seems to be dependent on her because he is absent-minded, incompetent and introverted. She takes care of all the practical matters of both their lives. He might be lost without her. He fantasizes about being a man of action, but he must know he really isn't. There is only one fantasy in which he appears to be fantasizing about being romantically involved with a another woman. That is the one in which he is testifying in a murder trial.

A woman’s scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty’s arms. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his chair, Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin. “You miserable cur!”  

Amusingly, the words "miserable cur" remind Mitty of one of the assignments his wife had given him when they parted.

“Puppy biscuit,” said Walter Mitty. He went into an A. & P., not the first one he came to but a smaller one farther up the street....“I want some biscuit for small, young dogs,” he said to the clerk. “Any special brand, sir?” The greatest pistol shot in the world thought a moment. “It says ‘Puppies Bark for It’ on the box,” said Walter Mitty.

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