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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by James Thurber

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Student Question

How does Walter Mitty's imagined performance in the operating room differ from his actual performance in the parking lot in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

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In each daydream (as the commander, doctor, trial witness, and pilot), Walter Mitty is calm, cool, collected, and able. In his real life, he is awkward and self-deprecating. It stands to reason that if he were not so distracted by his own imagination, he might be reasonably confident and maybe even well coordinated in his daily life. But since his daily life is so mundane, he feels it necessary to daydream. It is a catch-22. Is it his clumsiness in his mundane life that leads him to daydream or is it his daydreaming that leads to his clumsiness? 

In the operating room, Mitty takes charge and knows exactly what to do. He fixes the anesthetizer and then, at the request of the doctors, takes over the operation: 

"Coreopsis has set in," said Renshaw nervously. "If you would take over, Mitty?" Mitty looked at him and at the craven figure of Benbow, who drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two great specialists. "If you wish," he said. 

Startled out of his daydream by the parking-lot attendant, Walter Mitty realizes that he is in the wrong lane. Frustrated with how inept Walter had been driving, the attendant orders him out of the car and the attendant parks it for him with relative ease. Walter is brilliant in his daydreams and blundering in his real life. 

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How is his performance in the operating room differ from that of the parking lot in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"?

In the operating room, Mitty calmly saves the life of a patient.  First, he repairs a complex machine by substituting his pen for a faulty piston.   Then, when the patient takes a turn for the worse, Mitty performs a life-saving operation.

 In the parking lot, Mitty is neither calm nor efficient.  First, he nearly smashes into another car.  When the lot attendant yells at him, Mitty becomes nervous and forgets to hand over his keys after he gets out of his car.

This is Walter Mitty. In real life, he is bumbling, inefficient and easily intimidated.  In his dream life, he is calm, daring, and extraordinarily skilled.  

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