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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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Do Mitty's daydreams benefit or harm him in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

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One might argue that Mitty's daydreams help him, because they reflect certain important elements of his real life, like when he is struggling to remember what to buy for his wife and has the courtroom daydream. However, the daydreams do hurt Mitty, distracting him from addressing his inadequacies and living in the present moment.

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Walter Mitty’s daydreams serve as a mental escape from his mundane real life. The events in the daydreams starkly contrast with the events of Walter’s reality, in which he is an unimportant figure who must do simple, meaningless tasks. One might argue that the daydreams help him find excitement and...

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purpose in life. However, since they are all in his mind, one might also argue that they hurt him, distracting him from living in the present.

Some of Walter's dreams do help him practically. For example, recall the dream about the murder trial. This dream comes on when he is struggling to recall what item he is supposed to pick up for his wife. The tense atmosphere of the murder trial is similar to the way in which Mitty’s wife would likely express her anger at him for not remembering what he had to get for her. He snaps out of the daydream and remembers that he was supposed to buy puppy biscuits. Now of course he cannot remember the brand he is supposed to buy, but this is an example of how his dreams incorporate elements and feelings of his real life and can help him navigate it.

While daydreams like this might be somewhat helpful, it is important to note that they consume Walter's life. He seems to channel his interpretation of reality into the daydreams more than into changing his real life. Consider how his daydreams are mere collections of his feelings, desires, and the images and emotions that surround him. For example, the dreams primarily feature figures who reflect the intense control his wife has over him. His real life might be more exciting if he was more immersed in it and less distracted by his daydreams. In a way, the daydreams are hurting him by distracting him from the present moment and addressing his real inadequacies.

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Do Mitty's daydreams occur when he is frustrated?

Certainly, one can see the convergence between the events in Mitty's life to his daydreams.  Yet, I don't think that his dreams are automatically and singularly triggered by his frustrations.  For example, his daydream about being in court is initiated by the calls of a newsie.  It does not seem that he is automatically frustrated into this dream.  It is here where I think that Thurber constructs an interesting characterization in Walter Mitty.  His condition of daydreaming is one that is a part of his own being.  Frustrations and the need to escape are potential motivating reasons why he enters his dream world.  Yet, I don't particularly see him as only going into his dream sequences because of frustration.  His daydreams occur out of frustration, but also out of the smallest embers of his daily life that could initiate a dream sequence.  Thurber might be suggesting that disenchantment and frustration do not solely immediately initiate daydreams, such as Mitty's.  Our desire to escape and enter a world in which we wish to be something else than what we are is not limited to frustration.  It can happen almost out of our own control, which is where Walter Mitty is seen in his daydreams.

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